Editorial Guidelines

Editorial Values, Standards, and Integrity Policies

Pursuit of Information and News

  • The Debrief treats information sources impartially and with honesty and integrity. Team members of The Debrief will not inquire unnecessarily into anyone’s personal life; threaten uncooperative sources; promise favorable coverage in return for cooperation; or pay in exchange for interviews or information.
    Team members will disclose their identities to people they intend to cover and their status as journalists, with the exception of times when seeking information that is publicly available. Team members may not pose as members of another profession while working as journalists.
    Team members of The Debrief must at all times during pursuit of news stories will not engage in illegal acts of any sort and must obey the all applicable state, federal, or local laws.
  • Team members of The Debrief may not record conversations with sources or interviewees without the prior consent of all parties to the conversations. This includes where the law allows recording with only one party aware of it. Rare exceptions may be made to this prohibition where recordings made secretly are legal, but only by the approval of managing directors of The Debrief (Executive Director, Content Director, and Operations Director).
    Debrief team members may not accept gifts, gratuities, and free or discounted transportation and lodging from new sources or while engaged on assignment with The Debrief. On rare occasions, special circumstances may come up making this prohibition impractical, however, exceptions may only be approved by the managing directors of The Debrief (Executive Director, Content Director, and Operations Director).

Sources of Information

  • Cultivating sources is essential to effectively providing news coverage and often is most effectively practiced in informal settings. Team members of The Debrief must ensure they do not foster personal relationships with sources that would erode into providing impartial news coverage or favoritism.
  • Team members of The Debrief who develop close relationships with people they might provide coverage on, edit, package or supervise must disclose those relationships to the managing directors of The Debrief (Executive Director, Content Director, and Operations Director). In certain instances team members may have to recuse themselves from certain coverage.
  • Use of Anonymous Sources

    • Use of material from anonymous sources may only be used if:
      • The material is information and not opinion or speculation, and is vital to the news report.
      • The information is not available except under the conditions of anonymity imposed by the source.
      • The source is reliable, and in a position to have accurate information.
      • Material from anonymous sources must be approved by the Content Director (Editor in Chief) and/or Executive Director. The Content Director (Editor in Chief) is responsible for vetting the material and making sure it is valid and meets The Debrief’s standards. The Content Director (Editor in Chief) must know the identity of the source, and is obligated to keep the source’s identity confidential. Only after they are assured that the source material has been vetted should information be allowed to be published.
      • Journalists and writers should proceed with interviews on the assumption they are on the record. If the source wants to set conditions, these should be negotiated at the start of the interview.
    • Before agreeing to use anonymous source material, how the source knows the information is accurate, ensuring that the source has direct knowledge, should be verified. Journalists may not agree to a source’s request that The Debrief not pursue additional comment or information.
    • Additional sources should be obtained to confirm or verify anonymous source information. In rare cases, one source will be sufficient – when material comes from an authoritative figure who provides information so detailed that there is no question of its accuracy.
    • Why the source requested anonymity should be conveyed to readers. When relevant, the source’s motive for disclosing the information should be provided. If the story hinges on documents, as opposed to interviews, the journalist or writer must describe how the documents were obtained, to the best possible extent.
    • The story also must provide attribution that establishes the source’s credibility. Journalists or writers should be as descriptive as possible: “According to a senior official working in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.” The description of a source must never be altered without consulting the journalist or writer.
    • The Debrief will not say that a person declines a comment when he or she is already quoted anonymously.
    • The Debrief will not attribute information to anonymous sources when it is obvious or well known. It should instead be stated as face.
      Stories that use anonymous sources must carry a journalist’s or writer’s byline. If a journalist or writer other than the bylined staffer contributes anonymous material to a story, that journalist or writer should be given credit as a contributor to the story.
    • All complaints and questions about the authenticity or veracity of anonymous material – from inside or outside The Debrief – must be promptly brought to the Content Director (Editor in Chief) and Executive Director promptly.
    • Before any interview in which any degree of anonymity is expected, there should be a discussion in which the ground rules are set explicitly as to what constitutes “off the record” or “on background.”
    • The Debrief defines the following terms as:
      • On the record. Information can be used with no caveats, quoting the source by name.
      • Off the record. The information cannot be used for publication.
      • Background. The information can be published but only under conditions negotiated with the source. Generally, the sources do not want their names published but will agree to a description of their position.
      • Deep background. The information can be used but without attribution. The source does not want to be identified in any way, even on condition of anonymity.

Attribution

  • Anything The Debrief reports that could reasonably be disputed should be attributed. We should give the full name of a source and as much information as needed to identify the source and explain why the person is credible. Where appropriate, include a source’s age; title; name of company, organization or government department; and hometown.
  • If we quote someone from a written document – a report, email or news release — we should say so.
  • Information taken from the internet must be vetted according to our standards of accuracy and attributed to the original source.
    File, library or archive photos, audio or videos must be identified as such. For lengthy stories, attribution can be contained in an extended editor’s note detailing interviews, research and methodology.
  • Conflicts of Interest

    • The Debrief respects and encourages the rights of its team members to participate actively in civic, charitable, religious, public, social or neighborhood organizations. However, Debrief team members must avoid behavior or activities that could create a conflict of interest or compromise our ability to report the news fairly and accurately, uninfluenced by any person or action.
    • Nothing in this policy is intended to abridge any rights provided by the National Labor Relations Act.
      Team members who are unsure whether an activity may constitute a conflict or the appearance of a conflict, consult with a supervisor or manager at the onset.

    Expressions of opinion

    • Those who work with The Debrief must be mindful that opinions they express may damage The Debrief’s reputation as an unbiased source of news. They must refrain from declaring their views on contentious public issues in any public forum, whether through blogs, social networks, comments pages, petitions, bumper stickers or lapel buttons.

    Quotations

    • Quotes must not be taken out of context. We do not alter quotations, even to correct grammatical errors or word usage. If a quotation is flawed because of grammar or lack of clarity, it may be paraphrased in a way that is completely true to the original quote.
    • If a quote’s meaning is too murky to be paraphrased accurately, it should not be used. Ellipses should be used rarely and must not alter the speaker’s meaning.
      When relevant, stories should provide information about the setting in which a quotation was obtained – for example, a press conference, phone interview or hallway conversation with the reporter.
    • The source’s affect and body language – perhaps a smile or deprecatory gesture – is sometimes as important as the quotation itself.
      Use of regional dialects with nonstandard spellings should generally be limited to a writer’s effort to convey a special tone or sense of place. In this case, as in interviews with people not speaking their native language, it is especially important that their ideas be accurately conveyed.
    • Always, we must be careful not to mock the people we quote. Quotes from one language to another must be translated faithfully. If appropriate, we should note the language spoken. Internal editing of audio soundbites of newsmakers is not permitted. Shortened soundbites by cutaway or other video transition are permitted as long as the speaker’s meaning is not altered or misconstrued

    Corrections

    • Writers must notify supervisory editors as soon as possible of errors or potential errors, whether in their work or that of a colleague. Every effort should be made to contact the writer and his or her supervisor before a correction is moved.
    • When The Debrief is wrong, we must say so as soon as possible. When we make a correction in the current cycle, we point out the error and its fix in the editor’s note. A correction must always be labeled a correction in the editor’s note. We do not use euphemisms such as “recasts,” “fixes,” “clarifies” or “changes” when correcting a factual error.
    • A corrective corrects a mistake from a previous cycle. The Debrief will ask other outlets that used the erroneous information to use the corrective, too.

    Responses

    • We must make significant efforts to reach anyone who may be portrayed in a negative way in our content, and we must give them a reasonable amount of time to get back to us before we send our reports.
    • What is “reasonable” may depend on the urgency and competitiveness of the story. If we don’t reach the parties involved, we must explain in the story what efforts were made to do so.