UGC (User Generated Content) Verification

Increasingly newsrooms depend on the eyes and ears — and portable digital devices — of the public. Photos, videos, FB posts, Tweets and text messages can help alert journalists to stories, and can become published content.

The trick is to have a verification procedure in place. A guide was published in 2014 to help newsrooms tackle the verification process. Link: Verification Handbook

Community Engagement Tools

(From the National Center for Community Engagement….)

Engagement Guide

Where should you begin? Here are some ideas about how to proceed:

  • If you are new to community engagement, proceed through each phase of the Engagement Process.
  • If you are familiar with community engagement, consider reviewing examples first, then our Case Study as it relates to each step in the Engagement Process.
  • If you are experienced conducting community engagement, view the engagement planning tools, beginning with defining outcomes. Then, proceed to the Case Study.

The Code of Editorial Integrity for Local Public Media Organizations

“Trust is the most important asset public broadcasting carries forward into its evolving public media future. Audiences rely on our information and perspectives as they make decisions in their public and personal lives. The public consistently says public television and public radio are their most trusted sources among many media choices.”

The words above introduce an important resource for local news stations like yours. The Code of Editorial Integrity for Local Public Media Organizations was developed through discussions, debates, and consultations involving hundreds of executives and senior staff of public broadcasting organizations, faculty from schools of journalism, and advisers in the areas of philanthropy, community engagement, new media, and best practices for nonprofit organizations.

You are encouraged to adopt the code and make it your own.


Local News Initiative

National Public Radio launched the Local News Initiative (LNI) to build the news gathering capacity of its member stations. The goal was to try new ways of working together to make NPR stations more vital, valued and central to the audiences in their communities. The LNI was led by Marsha Alvar, who commissioned this online guide. Later, NPR transferred the activities of the LNI to the Public Radio Program Directors Association where much of the project is now archived.

Ethics Codes

The Public Radio News Directors organization touts a simple and direct Code of Ethics built upon three principles:

  • Truth
  • Fairness
  • Integrity

The NPR Ethics Handbook provides an interactive tool that begins, “This is NPR. And these are the standards of our journalism.” The section on principles includes: accuracy, fairness, completeness, honesty, independence, impartiality, transparency, accountability, respect and excellence. Special sections include: anonymous sourcing, attribution, diversity, social media, speaking appearances and visual journalism.

Local public media stations can now find a template from which to develop their own code of ethics. The Public Media Integrity Project was created to provide carefully articulated guidelines with the exigencies of local public broadcasters first in mind.

The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics emphasizes four dominant ideas:

  • Seek Truth and Report It,
  • Minimize Harm,
  • Act Independently,
  • Be Accountable.

The Radio Television Digital News Association builds their Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct around six main principles:

  • Public Trust
  • Truth
  • Fairness
  • Integrity
  • Independence
  • Accountability

Similarly, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation displays a lengthy code of Journalistic Standards and Practices that offers model policies for a large public service broadcasting network.

Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism: The Elements of Journalism

One organization that has been active in journalism reform and newsroom training is Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

There you can learn more about an influential publication: The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel. The authors summarize the purpose of journalism — “to provide people information to be free and self-governing.”

They list these ways of fulfilling that purpose:

  1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
  2. Its first loyalty is to citizens.
  3. Its essence is a discipline of verification.
  4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
  5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
  6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
  7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
  8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
  9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

The First Amendment

The Bill of Rights went into effect in 1791. It made 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which was signed in 1787.
The First Amendment states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

One of the best websites on the internet for discussion and study of First Amendment matters — particularly the freedom of the press — is the First Amendment Center.

Sound Reporting: Newscasting

In Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production, author Jonathan Kern discusses the many factors that can make a story newsworthy:

  • It will have great impact on people.
  • It’s unusual or unexpected.
  • It’s the first of a kind.
  • It’s timely.
  • It’s controversial.
  • It involves prominent people.
  • It deals with death or tragedy.
  • It has to do with the U.S.
  • It concerns an important issue.
  • It is of human interest.
  • It’s useful.
  • It’s “out there.” (As in getting widespread interest elsewhere.)

Kern says these factors help newscasters quickly sort thousands of stories down to a manageable number.

And while news judgment can be subjective, in public radio it also conforms to particular values and principles:

  • The news is accurate.
  • The news is up-to-date.
  • The news stories are easy to understand.
  • The news stories provide context.
  • The news is balanced.
  • The stories are well written.
  • The news stories avoid hype.
  • The newscast takes a global perspective.
  • Newscasters don’t let themselves become part of the public relations machine.

More on Sound Reporting by Jonathan Kern of NPR News

Sound Reporting: Hosting

In Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production, author Jonathan Kern discusses the role of program hosts.

He likens them to good hosts off the air:

They are consummate story-tellers who have a keen sense of what needs to be explained, what facts can be left out, and how to keep people waiting for the story’s conclusion. They make clear and concise introductions — to interviewees, to reporters, and to commentators. When they are speaking with a guest, they don’t dominate the discussion or draw undue attention to themselves; they keep the focus on what the interviewee has to say. They also listen attentively and know how to draw people out by asking thoughtful questions. They speak fluently, and their voices are pleasant to listen to. And they maintain — or seem to maintain — a high level of energy and concentration, even when they have gone many hours without sleep or food.

Kern says they are also seasoned journalists and they play critical editorial roles on their programs.

News Directors should study Sound Reporting and require their journalists to read it.

Sound Reporting: Reporting

In Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production, author Jonathan Kern cites the personality traits and skills of good reporters:

  • A good reporter is curious
  • A good reporter is skeptical
  • A good reporter looks and listens for the truth
  • A good reporter listens well
  • A good reporter absorbs information quickly
  • A good reporter uses the medium effectively
  • A good reporter does everything possible to avoid making mistakes

The chapter goes into considerable depth as does the entire book. Local newsrooms should have a copy of Sound Reporting and require all journalists to read it.

Independence and Integrity Guidebooks

Some of the leading journalists in public radio got together to produce two historic guides for dealing with ethical issues.

The first of these was produced cooperatively by PRNDI, NPR and PRI in the 90s. It was authored by Professor Alan Stavitsky and was an outgrowth of a summit convened at the Poynter Institute. In the foreward, public radio pioneer William Siemering called it “25 years overdue.”

Independence and Integrity I

The second is an update of the first and was commissioned by CPB in 2004 to bolster assurances that news on public broadcasting remained high in quality and high in ethical decision-making. It was authored by Stavitsky and former NPR VP for News Jeffrey Dvorkin. Again, it sprang from a convocation at Poynter, only this time the guide confronted news “in the digital age.”

Independence and Integrity II

Jonathan Kern: Story Editing

In this document — an early chapter draft of Sound Reporting — author Jonathan Kern provides a training tool for editors in the NPR system.

The sections are:

  • Story Editing
  • The Editor’s Role
  • The Ingredients of a Story
  • Structuring the Story
  • Editing by Ear
  • The Intro
  • The First Track
  • Copy Editing
  • The Ending
  • When to Stop Editing
  • New Approaches to Old Stories

LNI: Best Talk Show Practices

Talk shows serve an important role for the community of radio listeners. Whether the program is driven by newsmaker interviews, or issue-oriented debate, or tapping the views of the callers, you give people a place to gather.

News oriented talk shows on public radio set a high bar. They stand for accurate information. They prioritize significant issues and introduce important newsmakers and opinion-leaders. They help local residents grasp complex matters and prepare them to make local choices. Perhaps most importantly, by creating a regular time and space for discussion, they help people speak, listen and think out loud.

Tools to help managers and producers make the most of their talk show were developed by NPR’s Local News Initiative (now archived at PRPD website): Local News Initiative Talk Show Handbook

More Public Radio Research

Here are links to three of the most prominent sources of quantitative and qualitative research in public radio over the past 30 years.

Station Resource Group
The SRG is a membership organization that provides analysis, consulting and advocacy work in public radio. It is led by Tom Thomas and Terry Clifford.

Walrus Research
The president of Walrus Research is George Bailey, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.

Audience Research Analysis
ARA produces “Audigraphic” reports that analyze Arbitron data.

Radio Research Consortium
The RRC contracts with Arbitron, Inc. to produce local market audience estimates. RRC provides Arbitron ratings data to public radio stations.

Huntsberger: Qualified Expectations of Audio Reality

Radio journalists know there is an ethical line between the editing of audio that improves a story and editing of audio that distorts the truth. However, it isn’t always easy to articulate the rationale by which we judge the differences. Michael Huntsberger of Furman University provides that rationale in the “Q-EAR Theory.”

Q-EAR: An Ethical Framework for Digital Audio Production

Michael Huntsberger, Ph.D.
Department of Communication Studies
Furman University

The Challenge Posed by New Technologies

While those on the production side are well aware that the sounds on radio may not be absolutely authentic, the same may not be true for the audience. Radio has always relied on skilled storytelling and editing to enhance the power and authority of the listening experience. In the days of analog tape recordings, close editing was difficult and time consuming. Contemporary digital technologies allow producers to manipulate every quality of recorded audio in minute detail with a few clicks of a mouse.

In an industry where sophisticated technology is the norm, and transparent editing is widely accepted, the generalized directives found in professional codes of ethics to accuracy, consistency, and the “essence” of an event are too vague to guide ethical judgments. The potential for misrepresentation, manipulation, and fabrication in digital audio production requires a more substantive approach to decision-making.

The Ethical Basis for Q-EAR

Communication ethicist Thomas Bivins asserts that ethical decision-making begins with the recognition of the producer’s obligations to the individuals and agencies that benefit from the production:

  • Suppliers provide the “raw material’ of the audio program. These include the subjects of news stories, individuals who act as sources of information, and agencies that provide access to subjects and sources.
  • Providers facilitate the production and distribution of programming. These include radio stations, networks, and syndication agencies, and individuals such as news directors and program directors.
  • Receivers are the listeners, or more generally the target audience for the program, or the community of service.

To each of these constituencies, the producer makes a promise of fidelity – that the content of the finished production is a fair, accurate, and appropriate representation of sonic events, offered in good faith to serve the requirements, needs, and interests of the constituents. In the case of a news package, the obligation of fidelity is reinforced by professional codes of ethics, which place a premium on the high standards for accuracy and fairness required by the tenets of journalism.

Journalism scholar Thomas Wheeler proposes a hierarchy of ethical responsibility based on the “implied authenticity” of content in the context of the presentation. Media constituents “bring a certain expectation of reality” to any piece of content, and “this expectation may be qualified” by the context of the content. Wheeler calls this framework the “qualified expectation of reality.” Within the craft of audio production, the producer is obligated to fulfill the qualified expectations of suppliers, providers, and receivers. At the same time, the producer needs the editorial flexibility to employ the capabilities of digital audio technologies when they can enhance the informative, educational, or entertaining qualities of a production in a manner consistent with ethical obligation of fidelity. These considerations form the basis for the Qualified Expectation of Audio Reality – the Q-EAR framework.

The Q-EAR Framework

Different audio contexts imply different levels of authenticity. News quotes, press conferences, and live reports imply stricter standards of authenticity and more stringent obligations to fidelity than documentaries, studio productions, or advertising. Ethical decisions in digital audio production begin when the producer frames the raw audio material in the Q-EAR hierarchy, ranging from news quotes and audio transcriptions through interviews, news packages, and documentary features. Each step down in the hierarchy acknowledges the variations in the medium’s “basic grammar” that are most widely understood and accepted by producers, suppliers, provider, and receivers.

Strict < ———————-Expectations of Authenticity————————-> Flexible
Live News – News Quotes – Interview – Studio Produced – Documentary – Ads

When working with news quotes, producers routinely edit raw audio to remove interruptions, repetitions, and ‘ums” and “ahs” to enhance the clarity of content. Similarly, technologies such as equalization and overdubbing have been part of the producer’s toolbox for decades. These established techniques are acceptable within the Q-EAR framework.

In contrast, more sophisticated techniques such as temporal re-sequencing, dynamic compression, time compression, and voice modeling infringe on the reasonable expectations inherent in the context of most news productions, and are not widely understood or interpreted as conventional news applications. Consequently, the Q-EAR framework limits the producer’s choices to selecting key quotes, editing for clarity, and performing simple equalization to conform to the expectation of radio news constituents.

The Q-EAR for documentary content is more flexible. Documentary producers regularly employ layers of sound and a range of technical enhancements to create a collage of sonic events to engage the listeners’ imagination. While such production techniques alter the temporal relationship of events, the resulting collapse of time allows the audience to understand and appreciate the relationship of sonic events that may have occurred hours or days apart in real time. These alterations enhance the listener’s comprehension within the qualified expectations of the documentary form. Similarly, the documentary producer may be faced with sonic environments in the field that are confusing and chaotic. Presented with a batch of contemporaneous sound files, the producer may have to edit and mix elements from separate narration and ambient sound files in a manner that conveys an accurate account of events without distortion.

In these cases, the producer needs to guard against choices that may misrepresent the subjects, events, and circumstances depicted in the final presentation. Working within the Q-EAR framework forces the producer to confront the fundamental question in digital production: Is this audio misleading?

Suggested readings

Bivins, T. (2004). Mixed Media: Moral distinctions in advertising, public relations, and journalism. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

RTE Programme-makers’ guidelines(2002). [Brochure]. Dublin: Radio Telefís Éireann. Retrieved January 8, 2008.
Sculler, D. (Ed.). (2005, December).

The safeguarding of the audio heritage: Ethics, principles and preservation strategy (Version 3). Retrieved January 8, 2008, from International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions website.

Shingler, M., & Wieringa, S. (1998). On air: Methods and meanings of radio. London: Arnold.

Audio Production

News Directors wear many hats and one of those might be “engineer and artist” when it comes to assembling a first-rate audio production. That’s why it’s important to stay up to speed on changes in audio technology and software programs.

Ironically, the first place an ND may turn for help on audio production is a digitally-savvy newcomer. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, such training flows both ways as the ND picks up new skills, the ND can also share wisdom and experience. Many tenets of good production transcend the particulars of software and hardware.

Another source of help in production may be from tutorials provided by the software (or equipment) manufacturer. Usually they are happy to oblige as part of the original sale agreement.

You might find some useful sites online.

There’s always helpful advice on

Knight Digital Media Center at Berkeley has various on-line tutorials for working with audio (and other multimedia).

For simple tutorials on the basics, go to

Style Guides

Writers and editors conform to a common style for the sake of consistency and to rule out poor practices. While these guidelines may be established by the News Director, often they are derived from one of the well-accepted style guides.

Many ND’s simply go with Associated Press (AP) Style. You can now find the AP Stylebook online, which allows quick searches and allows you to save your own variations. The AP has different guidelines for broadcast and print or online.

A well-respected style guide for broadcast and online news is provided by The BBC.

AMPPR: Host Interviewing Tips

The following tips are excerpted from materials shared by David Srebnik and Cynthia May at the 2008 meeting of AMPPR (Association of Music Personnel in Public Radio). All tips are from experienced network news hosts.

Susan Stamberg (Special Correspondent, NPR)

  • Listening to answers is more important than asking the question.
  • Best question is often the simplest: WHY?
  • Prepare in advance as if your life depended on it.
  • Think, in advance, of what you want to get out of the interview.
  • Think of the beginning, middle and end of the interview — make your questions related, not random.

Neal Conan (Host, NPR’s “Talk of the Nation”)

  • Only ask one question at a time… ask two, and they’ll just answer the one they like.
  • Come prepared with questions, but LISTEN to the guest, who will often tell you what the next question should be.
  • Try to structure your interview so it has a beginning, a middle and an end.
  • Preparation, preparation, preparation.
  • There is a difference between live and taped interviews, and between host interviews and reporter interviews.
  • Live/host: always start with the most interesting question.
  • Taped/reporter: begin with a “waist high fastball” to allow the guest to deliver the message he/she wants, THEN get to the interesting stuff.

Lynn Neary (Correspondent, NPR)

  • The key to a good interview is listening
  • Don’t be afraid to ask a dumb question… sometimes they yield the best answers… but be careful with this one, you don’t want your guest to think you are not too bright or ill-prepared… maybe just a little “naive.” (Terry Gross is a master at this. You know she walks into an interview better prepared than anyone and then asks one of these disarming little questions that just makes a guest open up.)
  • Which of course, brings us to preparation. I used to have a quote above my desk: “Chance favors only the prepared mind.”
  • You need to know a lot about the guest and then act like you don’t know that much and then, when you hear something new, be ready to jump on it.
  • The interview is not about you, it is about the guest.
  • Bring real curiosity to the table. There is no substitute.

Robert Siegel (Host, NPR’s “All Things Considered”)

  • Listen to what the person you’re interviewing says. She may answer one of your other questions & make it unnecessary. More important, he may say something much more interesting than you had anticipated, something worth dwelling on for a couple of questions.
  • Be prepared to dump the questions you walked in with if the conversation develops in an interesting way.
  • Arm yourself with quotations about the interviewee. You can put outrageous statements to him/her, provided they’re attributed to someone else.

Kai Ryssdal (Host, APM’s “Marketplace”)

  • Rule number one for me is preparation. Know everything you can — or everything you have time to study — about what or who the subject of the interview is.
  • Personality is so important. So I guess rule number two is let a bit of yourself come through.
  • Finally, I think the warm-up is under-rated. Whether it’s in person or in the studio or on an ISDN, spending even a little time chatting with the interviewee beforehand can really pay off. It sets them at ease and it lets them get a glimpse of you as a person before they have to interact with you ‘professionally.’

The Core Values of Public Radio

The Public Radio Program Directors Association (PRPD) sponsored the Core Values Project. It is aimed at clearly defining the fundamental appeal of public radio programming.  Here is a handy one page summary of the findings: sample-core-values-news

The project worked with PRNDI to apply the core values to local news programming. It produced a PRPD-PRNDI Core Values Toolkit

The project grew to cover other formats and more case studies. For the most complete set of reports and case studies, visit the Core Values repository on the PRPD website.

John Proffitt: web Toolkit

Local public radio newsrooms can move in the direction of multimedia news distribution by adding some basic gear, growing the skills of their employees and taking advantage of low-cost new media tools.
John Proffitt of Alaska Public Radio Network prepared this training handout for journalists wanting to add “Web Extras” to their news coverage.

Outside Help-John Proffitt-web toolkit

John also recommends a look at new media tools featured in this article on MediaShift.

Paul Bradshaw's News Diamond

Our basic approach to journalism is changing. One British blogger, Paul Bradshaw suggests a model based on a diamond:

  • the tip is the early alert
  • then the model widens as we add facts and details
  • then there’s the middle in which we get full depth, context and analysis
  • then it tapers down to the interactivity process
  • final user customization

Go to Paul Bradshaw’s News Diamond

Poynter Institute: Your Management Style

One of the simplest systems of categorizing leadership styles comes to us from the late Paul Pohlman of the Poynter Institute:

OFFICIAL: Relies on rules and directives. Authoritative. Use this sparingly as it stifles discussion and creativity. Can be very effective during a crisis when precision and control is paramount.

EXPERT: Operates out of personal skills and experience. Yields respect up to a point. Many news directors need to grow beyond this to encourage the expertise of others.

COACH: Tries to help staff be their best. Shapes relationships with staffers according to their needs.

TEAM BUILDER: Expects group interactions to motivate and discipline individuals. Fosters common purpose and shared values.

Managers will normally borrow from all four categories but tend to be dominant in one. Pohlman emphasized the “coach” style for News Directors.

Jill Geisler of the Poynter Institute is another well-respected trainer for broadcast news managers. She describes additional management types in her column.