Hey Did You Hear How We Handled That? Volume II: Transparency : 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 II: Transparency

Hey Did You Hear How We Handled That? Volume II: Transparency

In Part One of his reports on "turmoil at the Times," David Folkenflik said this on the air today:

"Jill Abramson would not comment for this story — but she told several associates that her rapport with Sulzberger was fraying. In recent performance reviews he had given her poor marks for alienating other senior editors.

"This story relies on interviews with two dozen current and former colleagues and associates of Abramson and Baquet. Those interviews yield a portrait of Abramson as a brilliant, brusque and occasionally brutal news executive."

Online, David reveals more about the reporting process:

"Through an associate, Abramson declined to comment for this story, which relies on interviews with two dozen current and former colleagues and associates of Abramson and Baquet. Almost none were willing to speak on the record, as they either still work at the newspaper or still have professional ties to one or more of the figures at the heart of the controversy. In addition, Sulzberger asked senior editors not to speak about what happened — even with their staffs — and told journalists there not to go looking for answers, though his paper has provided some coverage.

"Nonetheless, those interviews yield a complex portrait of Abramson as a brilliant, brusque and occasionally brutal news executive."

A case can be made that it would have been good to include some of this line — "almost none were willing to speak on the record, as they either still work at the newspaper or still have professional ties to one or more of the figures at the heart of the controversy" — in the on-air report. But the Morning Editionaudience certainly got the message: David spoke to many different individuals who were in a position to know about Abramson and did his best to get her to talk as well.

The language both on-air and online delivers on one of the goals outlined in our guidelines:

"Describe anonymous sources as clearly as you can without identifying them."

The language also delivers when it comes to our goals regarding transparency.

"We reveal as much as we practically can about how we discover and verify the facts we present."

Part Two of the reports is due on All Things Considered later today.

For another look at transparency when it comes to why we felt we had to grant some anonymity, see Ari Shapiro's recent Morning Edition piece "Corruption In Ukraine Robs HIV Patients Of Crucial Medicine." He introduced listeners to "a pale middle-aged man with blue-gray eyes. The man asks us not to use his name. He was already fired from one job when his boss learned that he has HIV."

None of this means that it's open season and anonymous sources should suddenly start popping up all over. Click here for our guidelines on their use.