Friday, July 10, 2009

Reuters Publishes Its Videojournalism Guidelines Online

Much is being made of the fact that Reuters has published its full handbook online. It's a useful compendium of journalism considerations, ranging from prose style to ethics guidelines.

As we clicked through the various sections, what caught our attention, of course, was the "Brief Guide to the Standards and Values of Reuters Video News" and "The Complete Reuters Video News Handbook."

A lot of it is basic journalism principles combined with plain common sense. But, as often happens when you try to define and codify these things, it veers into areas that aren't as neatly black and white as news organizations (and their audiences) would like them to be.

For instance, here's a sticky issue it tries to address:

"Never alter a still or moving image beyond the requirements of normal image enhancement."

Even though that's listed as one of the "10 Absolutes of Reuters Journalism," any professional practitioner will tell you that there's nothing "absolute" about it, as long as the concept of "normal" is open to wide interpretation. Nevertheless:

We have a duty to show the scene of any story accurately without adding or removing – either physically or electronically – any contents. Reuters Television staff must do only what is minimally necessary to improve the technical quality of video. Our staff must never manipulate or add/remove the contents of video. Audio must never be added which may affect the editorial interpretation of a sequence or story.
And speaking of audio, here's a morbidly fascinating precept, that stands out so brazenly in its specificity as to make you wonder whether such a thing actually happened in 1963:

"NEVER add the sound of a gunshot on mute coverage of the assassination of a president."

In an age when the "democratization" of our profession is blurring the boundaries of what constitutes journalism, it is refreshing to wade through a document that at least attempts to distinguish good from bad, and right from wrong. So bravo to Reuters for establishing and publicly disseminating a set of guidelines that deserve to be followed -- even if, like all moral beacons, they are necessarily subjective.

Take some time to look it over yourself, and please let us know what you think.

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