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Editorial standards: maintaining trust, authority & integrity

April 7, 2018

Professional journalists care deeply about about the quality and accuracy of what they write and the way they go about gathering information.

A few years ago, I wrote a booklet for Incisive Media journalists on editorial standards which contains plenty of valuable advice and guidance for journalists. Much of it remains highly relevant and is worth sharing. I remember when writing the booklet how impressed I was that so many other media organisations, especially in the fields of business and financial publishing had similar policies they expected their journalists to adhere to.

This is the third in a series of blogs doing just that with a few minor up-dates.

Mission: It is our aim to produce great journalism that provokes, informs, entertains and educates. Accuracy, reliability and integrity are the key attributes that all writers and production staff should aim for in every aspect of their work. We strive to produce added-value information, whether in print or online, that our readers cannot live without. You should be aware of your division’s mission statement and that of your own brand.

Authority: We write factual and authoritative stories and do not pull punches. We do not write deliberately negative or destructive copy and always go out of our way to be honest and balanced. There is no room for mean-spirited journalism in our pages. Be tough, but be fair.

Independence: One of the most important qualities of a good journalist is independence and our readers must be able to place their trust in us. We are independent of our sources and do not let ourselves be used by them. It is our job to question the conventional wisdom and ask the questions we know our readers would like to have answered. Our editorial pages – whether in print or online – are not for sale.

Accountability: We hate making mistakes. When we do, we correct them. Internally, you are expected to come clean with your editor or publisher when you make an error. Do not withhold any serious complaints you get from readers and/or sources about your work. (A further blog in this series will deal with complaints and how to handle them).

Initiative: Editorial staff must show initiative and commitment, be good time managers and be flexible, ready to respond to the varying demands of their job. They must represent Incisive Media in a professional and conscientious manner in appearance and attitude.

Honesty: Never lie to a source. Never lie to a colleague. Never lie to your editor or manager.

Transparency: Never duck the implications of your relationship to a subject or a story, or to a particular source or sources, if this might have an impact on how we approach a story. If there is any reason why you might not be the right person to do a story because of a conflict, let your editor know.

ipso-green-320Stocks and shares: Simply put, you should never write about a company or business in which you have a financial interest, or write about shares or financial services products in which you or a close relative has a significant interest. You should be familiar with the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s Editors’ Code of Practice which is unequivocally clear on this point.

Advertising features: These are a common feature of modern business publishing and can add value to a publication, its website or to an event. However, it is important that readers are not misled. They should be clearly labelled and, if staff writers are contributing, you should always ask the question: is it clear to the reader what is independent content and what is paid-for content? If there is any prospect of confusion among readers, you should err on the side of caution and use external writers or write under a pen name.

Plagiarism: It goes without saying that as part of your commitment to trust and integrity, you should never attempt to pass off someone else’s work as your own.

Entertainment and paid-for trips: Practice differs sharply in different markets. In the US, most journalists decline all lunches or similar if paid for by a company or a source. In the UK and Asia, it is more usual to accept them. You need to be wary of excessively expensive entertainment: think through the potential obligation to the provider that might result and, if you have any concerns, discuss these with your publisher and editor. If it is a paid-for visit to another country that will result in editorial coverage, you should state clearly at the end of any article who paid for the trip.

Finally, there were a few general words of advice that all journalists, including this writer, should reflect on from time-to-time.

A key ingredient in any successful journalistic career is self-discipline, whether in meeting deadlines, managing your time, making that extra phone call to get the story or checking every fact over again. That can only come from you, although the advice in this booklet will be of great help.

Always remember that excellence is not a one-off event, it is a constant striving for the very highest standards in print, in person and online.

Trust, authority and integrity are hard-won accolades: tough to earn but all too easy to lose.


The next blog in this series will deal with the growing problem of demands for quote checks.

The earlier blogs covered:

• Editorial standards: values worth striving for
• Reporting Best Practice: facts, sources and comment

From → Publishing

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