Editor’s ‘ethically dubious’ order challenged
Jim Gaines, the news agency’s editor for The Americas, recently issued the following instruction on The Hub, its internal communications system: “When a legitimate rival (anyone from our big-media competitors to authoritative blogs) gets a solid scoop that will either move a stock or be likely to influence traders and investors in your patch, you must pick it up immediately, with snaps if it’s a possible stock-mover. Then you should put out calls to sources and otherwise reach out for help.”
He acknowledged that “Our financial clients pay us to give them news no one else has, of course, but they also count on us to tell them quickly about hot news from our rivals that will either move a stock – or even the market – or drive the conversation. When we delay news on a big story because we want to match it first or for whatever reason, we have denied our clients the best information available and so failed them and ourselves.
“Even in cases where a rival builds on one of our biggest scoops and takes it forward only incrementally, we should pick it up, then showcase our own earlier reporting with a link,” he said.
“The temptation to dismiss a scoop out of pride, in other words, should be a warning sign that we’re about to make a major mistake. Our customers come first, even when it hurts.”
Gaines is a former editor of US magazines Time, Life and People. Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler hired him in April 2011 as global editor for ethics, standards and innovation.
Bob Evans, a 50-year veteran correspondent and bureau chief now working as a consultant to Reuters, questioned the instruction as a major departure from long-established Reuters news practice and “ethically dubious”.
“Do financial clients seriously expect us to provide them with an opposition story rather than our own? And is there not a great danger that by so doing Reuters could be, on occasion, actively complicit in disseminating at best misinformation and at worst disinformation?” he wrote in reply to Gaines’s instruction.
“I can recall several occasions in Moscow, Mexico City, Paris and other places where I served when picking up market-moving opposition reporting – that subsequently proved to be incorrect – could have proven at best a setback for one's position vis-a-vis local sources and officials and at worst positively dangerous, for the uppicking reporter’s future in the country and even for his bureau’s continued existence there. Our instructions were always clear: ‘Do everything possible to match a major opposition story from equally reliable sources as theirs, or to obtain a formal denial. But never pick it up, even indirectly, or knock it down without solid information to go on.’
“I would also challenge the suggestion that Reuters correspondents, at least most of those I have known over the years, would dismiss a scoop out of pride rather than take it as a spur to try to get an even better story. In Moscow in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, with our colleagues from AP, UPI and AFP – then our main opposition – we often shared subsequently the back stories behind each other’s occasional scoops. Naturally, Reuters got most of them, but when one of the others did there was certainly a twinge of jealousy if it turned out to be correct. Which also spurred determination to be first next time.”