Editorial Standards and Ethics
FRONTLINE adheres to its established Journalistic Guidelines as well as the editorial principles outlined by PBS.
FRONTLINE is also a member of The Trust Project, a global consortium of news organizations that implement standards of transparency, called Trust Indicators, to help audiences evaluate the quality, integrity and reliability of journalism. Find out more.
Learn more about FRONTLINE’s editorial standards and ethics below. These, as well as the guidelines referenced above, apply to all “producers,” which includes all reporters or other staff members with day-to-day editorial responsibility for content published on any of our platforms, including documentaries, news segments, television, digital video, social media posts, radio, podcasts and digital text stories. Where the term “Executive Producer” is used we mean to include, where appropriate, any senior producer, editor or editorial project supervisor.
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Editorial and journalistic integrity is integral to our ability to achieve our public media mission. Our ethics policy outlines our commitment to fair and accurate reporting, our guidelines against conflicts of interest, our fact-checking standards, our policy on unnamed sources, our efforts to ensure corrections are transparent and more.
Adherence to these foundational values in our work underpins our ability to connect to local and national audiences with credibility. We cannot educate, inspire or entertain effectively — nor can we foster citizenship and culture, advance the joy of learning nor deliver diverse perspectives — without this commitment.
You can find these journalistic guidelines here.
Raney Aronson-Rath is the Executive Producer of FRONTLINE. You can reach her at FrontlineEditors@wgbh.org, and see the rest of our staff here.
FRONTLINE is committed to presenting more voices, perspectives and experiences across our platforms. As a member of public media, it’s a core part of our mission to reflect the perspectives of all the people we service. We seek both to foster a work environment and to produce journalism that values inclusiveness and reflects the broad perspectives of the American public from all racial, ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities and functional limitations, particularly those from historically marginalized communities. FRONTLINE also conducts an annual survey of staff racial and ethnic diversity, gender and LGBTQIA+ identity. You can access the latest data at the link below.
Diversity at FRONTLINE in 2020
Diversity at FRONTLINE in 2021
Verification and Fact-Checking Standards
In matters of fairness there is one specific requirement: All producers must have a fact-checking procedure at the completion of the program. In the case of long-form content, for instance, this would mean that every line of narration and synch and every picture is checked for the accuracy of any factual assertion. Pay attention to the proper spelling of names and titles, correct dates, accurate translation of foreign language material, etc. Producers should be prepared to show and cite their sourcing or sources in a fact-checking document or annotated script.
Producers should generally review assertions of fact given by experts, especially if any credible questions arise about their accuracy. If an expert’s assertion calls into question the character or competency of another person or entity or is otherwise possibly defamatory, then the assertion may not be accepted without verification. All factual assertions by non-expert interviewees should also be checked.
Nothing in the fairness rules should be interpreted as preventing a producer from making a point-of-view or authored program. However, such a program must be identified and labeled as such. Then these programs can be given more latitude as personal and artistic expressions, so long as they are not inaccurate or defamatory.
No Byline Policy
In cases where a story is attributed to ‘FRONTLINE,’ often seen on corporate or government statements responding to our reporting, or pages of collected works; the text was written by a member of our editorial staff and the journalism included sourced to the appropriate reporter or reporting teams. You can reach out to individual members of our staff here. In rare cases, a byline may also be withheld at the discretion of the senior editorial team for security reasons.
Policy on Sources
One cardinal responsibility of the producer is to present the significant facts. That means clearly identifying those who speak on camera or who are invoked as an authority for a statement of fact.
Identity in this case must also include relevant information about the character of the source. By extension, any special interest the speaker or interviewee might have that could motivate their speaking should be made known in the program. For example, by narration or on-screen identification, one should note if the speaker has filed a lawsuit in the matter being discussed or works for an entity that has a political reputation or has written about science or history from a particular point of view.
Best practice dictates that there must be at least two independent sources on the record (one might be a document) before publishing controversial factual assertions. If that is not possible, publication may still be appropriate if the limitation on the ability to verify beyond the single source is clearly revealed to the viewer. The Executive Producer must approve any such exception.
From time to time it may be necessary to use unnamed sources — to conceal or keep confidential a source’s name or disguise a source’s voice or appearance. In such cases, the name and background information about the source must be disclosed to the Executive Producer for approval, and possibly to the WGBH Legal Department. Producers should also indicate clearly in the work itself when a source’s name is withheld and if necessary, the reason why.
Consider Diversity in Sources
Producers are free to exercise their editorial judgment as to which characters are best suited to push forward a story line, and which sources are best able to present the information the program seeks to deliver. However, we encourage producers to consider diversity in race, ethnicity, gender and gender identity; sexual orientation, geographic and economic status as a positive value in choosing whom to present.
Corrections can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can find other ways to reach us here.
After broadcast or publication, producers are expected to immediately bring to the attention of the Executive Producer any errors that the producer becomes aware of and to help in making any necessary corrections.
If an error involves a misstatement calling into question the character or reputation of an individual, company or product, then the producer must consult with the WGBH Legal Department before taking any steps to correct it and before responding to the complainant directly.
Producers also may be called upon to provide information for purposes of updating a program that is going to be repeated or pre-published.
As reporting develops, digital reports are sometimes updated with new or additional information to further readers’ understanding of a story. In these cases, a note will be published with a date stamp. Significant errors discovered in digital reports will be promptly corrected, with a note included on the story to inform readers of the change.
Corrections: When a substantive error is discovered in the text, headline, caption, graphic or text of the story, the text will be updated, and a correction will be published at the bottom of the story.
Clarifications: When the reporting is factually accurate, but lacks clarity or necessary details, the text will be updated, and a clarification will be published at the bottom of the story.
Social Media Content
Errors discovered in content published to social media platforms merit unique responses based on both the severity of the mistake and the most transparent means of communicating the error to the platform’s audience. As such, each will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and readers notified in the manner appropriate to the platform.