CJR_RollingStoneWith writers' integrity under scrutiny right now, here are a few tips for reporting responsibly. These are, admittedly, off the top of my head and based on my training in journalism school (way last century) and my 32 years of freelancing. There are others, I know, but this will get us started:


1. Do good background research. Read up on your topic before you do the first interview. Ask your editor or an experienced beat reporter for resources, but if they can't provide them, find your own. Review several sources of information to make sure you're getting the complete picture. Sometimes, a lack of consensus may end up being the story.

2. Consider the sources. I don't think that all articles and research produced by people with a stake in the industry or outcome are suspect, but that doesn't mean we should blindly accept the information. Again, look for other more objective sources to vet the information you find and keep it honest. And keep your background source documents. Links often go change and you want to have the original source material handy.

3. Go beyond the pitch. Many folks (myself included) rely on Profnet, Help A Reporter and other online "matching" services to identify sources. These are great services. But I notice a lot of writers accepting answers submitted by sources as complete answers -- without vetting the ideas or asking follow-up questions. This is lazy, yes, but it also keeps you from regurgitating potentially inaccurate or misleading information and from providing necessary context. Occasionally a source may respond with a perfectly formulated response to a query, but even then, do some follow-up. You'll get more great stuff.

4. Cite the original source. I'm noticing more and more as I research topics that many writers are citing statistical data by linking to the article or blog where they found the information. That is, I'm sure, minimally acceptable. But we do a better service to our readers if we find the original study or survey, locate the actual wording of the finding and use that. Many times, I find that a writer has interpreted the data in a way that's different from the actual finding. Most of the time, though, I think readers might want access to the source material and they shouldn't have to go on the wild goose chase to find it that I did.

Again, this is nowhere near a comprehensive list. But it's a start, a catalyst.

I encourage you to review good practices--for yourself and with your team--this week. Maybe it's time for a revision or upgrade. The Columbia Journalism Review has a lot of articles and other resources on this at the Columbia Journalism Review site. Or you can check in with your local news organization -- they might even send an editor over for a workshop or Q&A.