February 3, 2017
Reuters publishes guidelines for reporting in the Trump era
by Kait Howard
As the media continues to grapple with how to cover a president who, whether he’s a media savant or not, manages to divert every ounce of their attention to himself, newsrooms across the country are reevaluating how they do their jobs.
On Tuesday, Reuters published a message their editor-in-chief Steve Adler had sent to his staff laying out guidelines for reporting in what he says in no uncertain terms is a bleak climate. In a manner that recalls the New York Times’ publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.’s announcement after the election that the paper would “rededicate” itself to the “fundamental mission of Times journalism,” Adler is careful to position the guidelines as having been at the core of Reuters’s work all along, rather than as a corrective to ineffectual reporting in the past.
He argues that Reuters—which reports in many countries where the press is widely restricted—is uniquely positioned to cover the Trump administration. In response to “censorship, legal prosecution, visa denials, and even physical threats to our journalists,” he writes, “we respond… by doing our best to protect our journalists, by recommitting ourselves to reporting fairly and honestly, by doggedly gathering hard-to-get information — and by remaining impartial” (my emphasis).
It’s easy to question what Adler means by “recommitment,” and his goals for Reuters may strike the jaded as overly lofty, and yet it’s hard not to be heartened by this call for a calm, rational response to what he is clearly convinced is a crisis situation (for the skeptical, the Washington Post’s Callum Borchers has an overview of the specific threats the press is facing).
Adler’s guidelines for “Covering Trump the Reuters Way” are as follows:
- Cover what matters in people’s lives and provide them the facts they need to make better decisions.
- Become ever-more resourceful: If one door to information closes, open another one.
- Give up on hand-outs and worry less about official access. They were never all that valuable anyway. Our coverage of Iran has been outstanding, and we have virtually no official access. What we have are sources.
- Get out into the country and learn more about how people live, what they think, what helps and hurts them, and how the government and its actions appear to them, not to us.
- Keep the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles close at hand, remembering that “the integrity, independence and freedom from bias of Reuters shall at all times be fully preserved.”
- Never be intimidated, but:
- Don’t pick unnecessary fights or make the story about us. We may care about the inside baseball but the public generally doesn’t and might not be on our side even if it did.
- Don’t vent publicly about what might be understandable day-to-day frustration. In countless other countries, we keep our own counsel so we can do our reporting without being suspected of personal animus. We need to do that in the U.S., too.
- Don’t take too dark a view of the reporting environment: It’s an opportunity for us to practice the skills we’ve learned in much tougher places around the world and to lead by example – and therefore to provide the freshest, most useful, and most illuminating information and insight of any news organization anywhere.
Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.