The Washington Post places a premium on original reporting, and the credibility of Post journalism is the bedrock of our entire enterprise. While timeliness is crucial, the overriding concern for accuracy should always prompt us to consider whether additional reporting should be undertaken before publishing and how information should be presented and, in some cases, qualified. In a major news event, readers may soon forget who first broke a story, but they are less likely to forget a devastating inaccuracy.
Our first choice is to rely on Washington Post reporting. There will be times, however, when we are not immediately able to verify a report. We may best serve our audience in these circumstances by either quickly posting wire copy, aggregating what credible news outlets are reporting or simply telling readers that we are chasing the first report of a potentially important story.
When making these judgments, we should not necessarily conclude that the information being reported elsewhere is true based on the fact that it is being reported by more than one news outlet. Whether we are prepared to repeat what others are reporting depends on the reputation of the other news outlets for accuracy and our experience in relying upon them. We routinely rely upon and publish wire service reports; we would not routinely repeat what an anonymous or previously unknown blogger has to say. Senior editors should be consulted if there are questions about the veracity of information being reported by others.
We must be careful when aggregating information that is being reported by other news organizations based on anonymous sources. If a news outlet attributes important information to an unnamed source or sources, our report should make clear to readers that the report by this news organization was based on such a source or sources. Ordinarily, we should not publish such information unless it has been approved by a supervising editor. As one example, we would not ordinarily name a suspect based on unnamed sources cited by other news outlets.
Here are some examples of sourcing issues and how we handled them:
- A blog item from a non-Post blogger who was part of our blog network cited an unnamed source saying that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a story about alleged infidelity committed by a very prominent member of Congress. We did not publish it.
- After the Japanese tsunami, news organizations, including the Associated Press, reported that thousands of people were missing in a region of northern Japan. We did not publish this information until we satisfied ourselves that the Kyodo News Service was a reliable source for the numbers. In the chaotic flow of breaking news, editors have to quickly use their judgment about whether wire service sourcing is trustworthy.
- During the 2010 hostage-taking at the Discovery building in Silver Spring, we decided not to name the armed gunman — though other news outlets had — until his identity could be confirmed by The Post.