'Can We Go With It?' Maybe Not, Because 'One And One And One' Isn't Always Three : 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 'Can We Go With It?' Maybe Not, Because 'One And One And One' Isn't Always Three

'Can We Go With It?' Maybe Not, Because 'One And One And One' Isn't Always Three

Reuters moves an alert — "Defense official: senior Taliban official killed in drone strike."

The Associated Press says — "Pentagon official: Taliban official killed by drone strike in Pakistan."

CBS pushes out a short story — "Top Taliban leader dies in Pakistani drone strike."

The question arises in our newsroom.

"It's on both wires and CBS, can we go with it?"

No. At least not based on the information we have so far. What we're looking at, in this not unusual scenario, is likely one source who has spoken to different news outlets.

What we want, ideally, is our own on-the-record confirmation — and not from that same person who has spoken to the wires, but from others who are in a position to know.

If that's not possible yet and the news is of such importance that we decide it needs to be reported, we still want to see multiple news reports that are based on multiple sources who are in a position to know.

Then, we "attribute, attribute and attribute some more."

Can you come up with a scenario in which we report something that's coming from just one source or one news outlet? I suppose. But it has to be really important news. And we don't do that without considerable discussion involving the executive editor, the deputy managing editors, the standards & practices editor and others.

Might The Two-Way post about the report or reports before we air something? Yes. But, again, that would only happen after discussion among the top editors. And the blog would make clear to readers what we know, what we don't know, where the information is coming from, what we're doing to confirm it — and that if the story changes, we will update immediately. The blog has the space to do and say things that Newscast, for instance, doesn't.