PBS’ updated editorial standards address inclusivity, social media use

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Revamped editorial standards for PBS emphasize inclusive content and fine-tune guidelines for the network’s social-media messaging.

The standards govern “everyone who creates, evaluates, or oversees content for PBS,” according to the 14-page document.

The revised rules, which took a year to craft, were approved by the PBS Board during a meeting Thursday at KET in Lexington, Ky. The working group was led by Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, and board member Evan Smith, CEO of the nonprofit Texas Tribune.

The most recent update in 2011 listed “guiding principles” for PBS: editorial integrity, quality, diversity and local station autonomy. The new version establishes “core editorial principles” of editorial independence, accuracy, fairness, transparency, inclusiveness and accountability.

Adding inclusiveness was among the most significant changes to the standards, said Ronnie Agnew, executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting and vice chair of the Standards Committee.

The group discussed at length the differences between “diversity” and “inclusiveness,” Agnew said. “It’s been my experience that when we talk about diversity, we think first of ethnicity,” he said. “We wanted the more holistic ‘inclusiveness’ because that better captures the importance of integrating different voices to reflect the pluralism of our society.”

New standards define inclusive content as reflecting “views from different backgrounds, such as geographic areas, ethnicities, genders, age groups, religious beliefs, political viewpoints and income levels.”

If PBS feels that content it would distribute falls short of that standard, it may “request that supplemental material be added, such as a new segment, an additional episode in a series of programs, or links to credible, high-quality, related resources that provide access to additional information with diverse viewpoints,” the standards say.

New guidelines about social media interactions are more specific. Previous standards advised engaging with the public “in all appropriate forms of media and be mindful of how audience behavior is changing.”

The updated standards include six specific mandates: Exercise civility, treat errors just as seriously as on other platforms, prevent conflicts of interest, provide adequate context, avoid sensationalizing to generate clicks, and vet third-party content.

Social-media platforms are a particularly fast-moving space, Smith told the board. “When we started the Texas Tribune, there were no tablets, no Instagram or Snapchat,” he said. “So much of our conversation now on a daily basis includes platforms that didn’t exist the last time these standards were reviewed.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t be waiting five years for updates,” Smith said.

In other meeting news, the board approved an operating budget of $341.9 million for fiscal year 2019. It includes a 2 percent increase in member station dues.

The content budget rises to $239.8 million, up $5.8 million from FY18. The total includes $35 million in grants.

Read the new editorial standards:

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