Reuters Launches Backstory: Great Idea, Implementation Needs Work

I like the idea of the new Reuters Backstory page. The basic idea is that the editors and reporters who have worked on some of Reuters’ stories will explain how they did it.

They have done so, according to EIC Stephen J. Adler, because there’s so much negativity surrounding serious news now and to “reflect our commitment not only to deliver accurate, unbiased news but to share more information about the way we work and the standards under which we operate.”

I’ve a read a couple of the backstory pieces, and yes they do share methodology, but they lack the ethical discussion that I think they really need. Adler says they will point readers to their Trust Principles in many stories and to Backstory posts if available, but I cannot help but think they need to combine the two.

In a Backstory about blood-lead levels in Los Angeles children, they run through how they found the data. It wasn’t easy. After getting one batch of data, they write:

Reporters pressed for more, and in March, California offered a better snapshot, providing previously unreleased data tracking childhood blood testing in a total of 546 zip codes, more than double what it had shared earlier.

This is a fantastic journalism, make no mistake.

However, the discussion here should focus on the “why”–why did they keep pressing? What in their Trust Principles or in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics made them push? Also, where were the holes in the first set of data? That is, what was in that data that said to them, “There’s still something missing.”

Right now, the couple of Backstory posts I’ve read focus too much on the “what we did” not on the “why it’s important,” or “how this fits our ethics.” –Steve Thurston

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