Grading Standards

 

            The overall logic is to set the passing grade at minimal journalistic performance. The average grade, C, is set at acceptable performance. What’s minimal and acceptable are subjective and originated with myself and expert journalists on the Grade the News Advisory Board. Grade intervals are approximately equal between A and F. These grading standards are probably appropriate for smaller news markets and a shade low for a top-five market like the Bay Area. All of the news organizations surveyed are considered large in resources and generally their staffs have learned the trade at smaller news organizations, and thus are experienced. (For all indices, plus grades are given for mid-range or higher scores)

 

Index 1: Campaign Coverage

 

            A= 20 percent or more of available news space/time allocated to politics;

            B=15-19%

            C=10-14%

            D=5-9%

            F= less than 5 %

 

            Rationale: Given the importance in journalism ethics of empowering democracy, in the final two weeks of a campaign when many are making up their minds, 1/5 th or more of the available news space/time should aid in this process (unless a very major incident intervenes that would command greater space or time than politics). In this case, the NBA basketball playoffs were occurring, but no local team was involved. There was also rain in May, an unusual occurrence. Neither of these, however, compare in impact on society to political decision-making, in our opinion. The other grades divide the 20 percent interval equally.

 

Index 2: Fairness

 

            A=85 percent or more of controversial political stories had at least one other side represented;

            B=75-84%

            C=65-74%

            D=55-64%

            F=less than 55%

 

            Rationale: In journalism ethics, failing to offer “both” or the major sides an opportunity to comment is unacceptable behavior. Note than an attempt to get a comment counts as much as an actual quote (so long as the reporter mentions that the attempt was made—standard practice in most newsrooms). Rather than a stricter academic scale, this grading system allows for some disagreement between judges on what constitutes the “other” side, without penalizing the news organization.

 

Index 3: Quality of Political Coverage

 

            This index is based on the mean grade of two others—number of sources per story and   whether an expert independent source was quoted.  Grades are calculated as in academia—A is 4 pts., B+3.5, B is 3.0, etc.

 

            Average number of sources per political story

            A=5 or more

            B=4 to 4.99

            C=3 to 3.99

            D=2 to 2.99

            F=fewer than 2

 

            Rationale: Particularly in political reporting, giving more persons a voice in the debate is honored in journalism ethics. America, particularly in the Bay Area, is a mosaic of many partially separate constituencies divided by ethnic lines, gender, sexual orientation, income, politics, and geography. A “multiperspectival” view is essential if the political structure is to span all of these groups. Note that a passing grade only requires two sources. It’s difficult to gather news without at least one source.

 

            Percentage of political stories with at least one independent expert source

            A=50% or higher

            B=40-49%

            C=30-39%

            D=20-29%

            F=less than 20%

 

            Rationale: The American political system is adversarial. The average citizen does not possess the resources to easily check the claims made by competing candidates or those on all sides of a ballot issue. “He said, she said” reporting, therefore, is often simply confusing to readers and viewers. The ethical journalist owes the public more when the debate is as important as who shall govern us and under which laws. Because this extra step in reporting is not available on fast-breaking stories, and not necessary for every campaign story, the grading standard is relaxed. A news organization can pass if only 1 in 5 political stories contains this extra source. 

 

Overall Grade

 

            This is simply the mean of the three indices, again using the 4-point academic scale. For this measure, however, grades are rounded up or down to the nearest grade. All ties go to the news organization. Thus a 3.75 is exactly mid-way between an A and a B+; it would receive an A.

 

            Caution: These standards—like all standards-- are subjective. These are also open to change. Please contact us with what you think would be better.