Watching the Watchmen

Jack Shafer has an interesting piece on Slate about the new “rules of engagement” announced recently at both the Washington Post and the New York Times. In a piece headed “The Guidelines We Use to Report the News,” which ran on Sunday, Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. laid out a new policy which urges staff to: encourage sources to go on-the-record; object to “background briefings”; provide corroborating information to support off-the-record sources wherever possible; and give readers as much information as possible about off-the-record sources.

Downie writes that his effort is an attempt to adjust to the era of “Internet borne rumors, talk-show speculation, and sophisticated spinning by newsmakers.” A Times memo from last month seeks to move the paper in a similar direction.

Shafer suggests that, after following the new rules for a while and getting beat out by less scrupulous competitors, the Post and the Times will quickly revert to the conventional modus operandi. But he’s eager to take Downie at his word, and urges readers to “read the Post with a magnifying glass in the coming weeks and see how good he is at enforcing his new standards.”

Jack, we’ll be right there with you.


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Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.