Hey Did You Hear How We Handled That? Volume I: 'Completeness' : Memmos Standards & Practices Editor Mark Memmott writes occasional notes about the issues journalists encounter and the way NPR handles them. They often expand on topics covered in the Ethics Handbook.
NPR logo Hey Did You Hear How We Handled That? Volume I: 'Completeness'

Hey Did You Hear How We Handled That? Volume I: 'Completeness'

We've said this about "completeness":

"We do our best to report thoroughly and tell stories comprehensively. We won't always have enough time or space in one story to say everything we would like or quote everyone we would wish to include. But errors of omission and partial truths can inflict great damage on our credibility, and stories delivered without the context to fully understand them are incomplete. Our journalism includes diverse voices that reflect our society and divergent views that contribute to informed debate. When we find that we can't deliver all the answers to important questions, we explain what we don't yet know and work to fill any gaps in our reporting."

I deliberately bold-faced that last sentence. You'll see why in a second.

Check out how John Burnett and Morning Edition handled the completeness issue Thursday in this piece: "U.S. Border Patrol's Response To Violence In Question."

John was following up on his report from two weeks ago about the U.S. Border Patrol's use of force along the border with Mexico. The voices we heard from included a lawyer for families who have sued the Border Patrol, an Arizona Republic reporter who has investigated the incidents and an analyst with an immigrant advocacy group.

And what about the Border Patrol? John got to the agency's former chief of staff, who offered perspective on the "very difficult environment" in which the agents work. Then — and here's where our guidance on explaining to listeners what we're doing to get questions answered — he made it clear that we have tried and will continue to try to get the agency to talk to us:

"Customs and Border Protection is considering a standing request by NPR to interview a top agency official regarding use-of-force policy."

Steve Inskeep then wrapped things up this way:

"As John mentioned, we're still working to schedule a talk with a top Border Patrol official. Tomorrow, we hear from two border congressmen pushing the agency for greater accountability."

That strikes me as very simple, direct, helpful language. We told listeners we're doing what we can to get officials to discuss this with us and that we're staying on the story. I know we do this kind of thing all the time, but just thought it's worth reminding ourselves how important such efforts are.

As the headline on this post implies, I'd like to pass along more examples of interesting and effective ways we've handled various issues, on-air and online. Send me your thoughts.