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Reuters' complete Handbook of Journalism goes online

Reuters published its complete Handbook of Journalism online for the first time on Thursday, including sections on standards and values, guides to operations and sports style, and specialised guidance on such issues as personal investments by journalists, dealing with threats and complaints and reporting information found on the internet, plus an A-Z general style guide comprising 2,213 entries.

“The handbook is the guidance Reuters journalists live by - and we’re proud of it,” wrote Dean Wright, global editor, ethics, innovation and news standards (pictured).

“Until now, it hasn’t been freely available to the public. In the early 1990s, a printed handbook was published and in 2006 the Reuters Foundation published a relatively short PDF online that gave some basic guidance to reporters. But it’s only now that we’re putting the full handbook online.”

Wright said the handbook is being made available to everyone for a number of reasons. Among them:

  • Transparency: At a time when trust is an endangered commodity in the financial and media worlds, it’s important that news consumers see the guidelines our journalists follow.
  • Service: As we’ve seen over the past decade, the barriers to publishing have dropped so that anyone with an idea and a computer can be a publisher. But it’s also become clear that publishers have a varying standard of truth, fairness and style. Our handbook is a good place for budding journalists to begin.
  • Geography: Reuters serves a global audience and the handbook recognises the cultural and political differences that our journalists face in reporting for the world. This is a handbook not just for English-language journalists in the United Kingdom or the United States, but for wherever English is used.

In the contest between UK and US English, “We take a global approach to the spelling of many words. Often, it’s the United States against the world.”

The sports section of the handbook offers a list of cliches to avoid and advice on “good, bad”: “For financial and commodity markets good news and bad news depends on who you are and what your position is in the market. Avoid them.”

One of the most controversial entries is that of “terrorism.” It reads, in part: “We may refer without attribution to terrorism and counter-terrorism in general but do not refer to specific events as terrorism. Nor do we use the adjective word terrorist without attribution to qualify specific individuals, groups or events. … Report the subjects of news stories objectively, their actions, identity and background. Aim for a dispassionate use of language so that individuals, organisations and governments can make their own judgment on the basis of facts. Seek to use more specific terms like “bomber” or “bombing”, “hijacker” or “hijacking”, “attacker” or “attacks”, “gunman” or “gunmen” etc.”

This policy has been passionately debated inside and outside Reuters, Wright said. As the handbook says, “we aim for dispassionate language” so that our customers can “make their own judgment on the basis of facts.”

Editor-in-Chief David Schlesinger puts it this way: “Over the years we have been criticised for this policy on numerous occasions, when people or governments wanted us to label an incident ourselves rather than quote their views. Criticism of our policy was especially fierce when the United States was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Reuters made the decision not to describe the attackers as terrorists, because we thought a label would not add to our vivid description of the thousands of deaths and the destruction of the iconic twin towers of the World Trade Center. In the years since, as the world has witnessed numerous other attacks, we’ve chosen to continue that policy of sticking with the facts and letting our readers make up their own minds based on our reporting and the evidence we present them.”

Wright added: “It’s important to point out that the handbook is a living document, one that preserves rules that have guided Reuters journalists through a century and half but also one that may change when the times change. It’s also important to note that the handbook is produced by humans who aren’t infallible — and it’s used by humans who aren’t infallible, so sometimes we make mistakes. I’m sure you’ll let us know when we do, but we’re usually harder on ourselves than anyone else is.”


Handbook of Journalism ■