Miranda Hurst

a Lecturer in Journalism at Edinburgh Napier University

Miranda Hurst is a Lecturer in Journalism at Edinburgh Napier University specialising in broadcast news. Prior to that she worked as a journalist for the BBC for more than 25 years, across television, radio and online. Miranda spent 11 years in London working for BBC World News, the BBC’s international 24 hour television channel where she ran the newsdesk overseeing live news programmes and serving audiences of 110 million people every week. She also worked on the UK general elections in 2015, 2017 and 2019 and the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014. Before that she spent 13 years with BBC Scotland covering politics. She’s also a video journalist, trainer and mentor. 

What are editorial guidelines? 

Editorial guidelines are exactly that – A GUIDE. They are not rules which you must comply with. They are a set of terms and practices designed to SUPPORT you and help you create the best news you can, no matter how challenging the circumstances or how complex the story. 
Editorial guidelines also help newsrooms to be consistent. If everybody knows the steps to take to ensure that news is of the highest standard, then teams can work together to put that into practice. Colleagues can help to check sources or validate information, editors can know where to focus their efforts and offer support, and presenters can be confident in the material they’re given.  

Why do Editorial Guidelines matter? 

One word – TRUST. Trust is the single most important quality for news organisations. If your audience trusts your news, they will come to you as a news provider. They will turn to you to understand what’s going on, they will have confidence in your reports, and they will share your content. Furthermore, if your sources trust you, they will help you to find and develop stories, and they will give you information. If your commercial partners know that you are trusted by your audience, they will want to be associated with you. 

What creates trust?

Trust has to be earned. Audiences need to be able to SEE that news organisations are working in every way to ensure the accuracy, impartiality and fairness of their news coverage. It must be overt and visible, which is why perception can be as important as what’s actually happening. News stories need to be SEEN to be reliable and credible, and when facts can’t be checked or mistakes are made, news organisations need to be transparent about it. The commitment between the news organisation and its audience needs to be explicit. And this is where Editorial Guidelines come in. 

Neil McIntosh

from New Scotsman UK

Transcript: “Without trust why would they buy us or come to our website or buy a subscription? What is the point if they can’t believe what they read, if they don’t trust the methods by which we’ve gathered information and presented it to them then without trust we’re lost. So yes, guidelines form a really important part of building that bond of trust. Having the guidelines public and being able to point at them when people complain and having also attached to those guidelines a process by which they can complain including to an independent body, that’s a really important part of being able to build up trust and maintain trust in the face of criticism about a story you’ve run or about a line that you’ve taken. That criticism of course may come not because you’ve done anything wrong but because you’re saying things that people don’t want to hear. That’s the job, so guidelines are helpful in allowing us to do our job.”

How do Editorial Guidelines help in the newsroom?

Editorial guidelines provide an effective step-by-step process for ensuring that news stories are of the highest standard. Having a system in place which every journalist understands and is committed to makes the news production process more efficient and consistent, by applying the same standards to every story. It makes it easier for journalists to ask for support, easier for editors to know where to focus their efforts, and it embeds expertise and knowledge in the newsroom. 

Alina Girnet

from Diez Moldova

Transcript: “Following an editorial guideline in our newsroom allows us to have everyone in the team on the same page. As reporters are working different shifts and are dealing throughout the day with different kinds of challenges in their reporting, having everyone following the same agreed set of rules helps us define quality standards in terms of documentation, interviewing, editing and publication including social media posting and the interaction with our audience and partners. Moreover, since the public agenda is frequently set by surrounding events that are many times unpredictable, having such a guide helps us navigate through the ocean of information we encounter every day, select what is relevant for our audience and focus our reporting on what we think is the most important to talk about.”

Most editorial guidelines for news organisations around the world centre on three key aspects. These are accuracy, impartiality and fairness. Why these three? If you as a journalist can demonstrate that your news coverage is accurate, impartial, and fair, your stories are much more likely to be trusted. So, let’s look at each in turn. 


This means checking your facts, checking your sources, checking your assumptions, checking the terms and descriptions that you use. And when you can’t do that, for example in conflict situations, you say so. Being transparent about what you know and how sure you are about it is vital for maintaining the trust of the audience.


This means making sure that your news is not skewed towards any one side of a story and is independent of any influence. Impartial reporting is balanced and gives context. It builds trust with your audience. Audiences will put their faith in your organisation if they believe that you represent their interests, not those of a more powerful organisation or authority. 


This means ensuring that you are open, honest, and respectful towards everyone that you deal with. This means being fair to audiences, contributors, sources and people involved in your stories. It means respecting everyone working in the newsroom and treating them equally. Anyone who is the subject of a story should have the right to reply to any allegations and put their side of the story unless there is a pressing editorial reason not to do so.

Let’s take a more detailed look.


Accuracy is at the heart of every news story, and central to the trust that audiences have in the output. News organisations should make every effort to ensure that what they publish or broadcast is true. News organisations must not mislead their audiences or spread false information or fake news. At its most fundamental that means all stories must be based on reliable sources, corroborated and the facts must be checked. This also means that accuracy is more important than speed. There’s no point in being first with a story if it turns out to be wrong.  
So, what does this look like in practical terms?

Yulia McGuffey

from NV Ukraine

Transcript: “A very simple example. Another missile attack on Kyiv. We hear explosions, but we do not publish speculative assumptions whether it is the missile or the work of air defence. We wait for confirmation from a reliable source or official information – and only after that do we publish. We may lose in speed to some social media platforms however we will have reliable facts, not hysterical reaction.
Case number two. On New Year’s Eve (22/23), the Ukrainian army killed hundreds of mobilized Russian soldiers in Makiivka in the occupied territories – there were many direct and indirect confirmations of that. Eight days later, the Russian Ministry of Defence announced a retaliatory action and said that “600 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the city of Kramatorsk” – the largest city in the Donbas controlled by Ukraine. This information appeared in the Russian propaganda news agencies.  Why were we not publishing anything straight away? We do not write that the Russians reported that they killed 600 Ukrainians – this is an obvious propaganda narrative. Instead, we ask for an official reaction from the Ukrainian side. And we present the news through the prism of the Ukrainian reaction. We don’t have anyone in Kramatorsk, but Reuters journalists went there – and confirmed that there is an empty school which the Russians allegedly hit. As the story develops, new sources are added. Fact-checking encourages countering Russian propaganda.”

Verifying information is vitally important, whether it is factual, a tip-off from a source or digital material such as pictures or video. Verification is a key tool in countering misinformation and disinformation. 
If you can, witness events yourself. If you can’t, try to find an eyewitness or a reliable first-hand account. If you need to rely on sources, find at least two who can confirm what happened, and whose accounts support each other. Claims and allegations must also be corroborated by a second source. Check any facts and statistics, and establish whether that information is limited in any way (eg several years old).  
If, despite your best efforts, you can’t verify a situation to your satisfaction then say so. Certain circumstances, such as acts of terrorism, conflict, or natural disasters, make it very difficult to establish the facts. News organisations should always avoid speculation and be honest about what they don’t know. This is particularly relevant in times of conflict or disaster. 

Yulia McGuffey

from NV Ukraine

Transcript: “Soledar is one of the key cities for Ukraine in Donbas, for which there are heavy battles. The Russians have stated many times that Soledar has been taken by them.   
What do we do when the Russians yet again declare that they took Soledar? We ask the authorities to confirm or deny this. The Ministry of Defence often anticipates requests and makes statements very quickly. We also try to contact those who are on the front lines. 
In the end, we were reflecting the development of the situation from various facts that we have gathered, and no one confirmed that Soledar was taken. In this case it was very important to be very careful and not to jump to conclusions. Our military retreated in some areas but did not leave the city.”

Any claims, facts or allegations that cannot be corroborated should be attributed. “Reuters is reporting …”, “a spokesman for the Prime Minister has said…”, “according to state media…”.

Similarly, if you do make a mistake, admit it and correct it as soon as possible. Audiences are more likely to trust an organisation which is explicit when it makes a mistake, rather than one which tries to cover it up.


Impartiality is what keeps newsrooms independent. It means that your professional opinions cannot be bought or influenced and that your personal beliefs do not impact the news that you produce. This last element can be a real challenge for journalists, but it’s very important.
This is how the BBC defines impartiality: “We are impartial, seeking to reflect the views and experiences of our audiences – so that our output as a whole includes a breadth and diversity of opinion, and no significant strand of thought is under-represented or omitted.”
It’s more than having balance between different sides of an issue. It’s about reflecting diversity of opinion and being inclusive. This can mean not just reflecting different political opinions but variations across the cultural landscape, reflecting the views of different genders and sexual orientations, the urban and rural, older and younger, poorer and wealthier. News must give due weight to events, opinions and main strands of argument.
A useful word here is ‘due’, and it’s one used by many established news organisations. It means “adequate or appropriate”. In essence news organisations do not need to give equal weight to all views or opinions. A view held by a small proportion of people does not demand the same amount of consideration as one held by the majority, or one that has been established by expertise.

Neil McIntosh

from New Scotsman UK

Transcript: “Let’s take a debate which unfortunately is true among some: is the world flat or not? I think we can pretty much say yes, the world is broadly spherical and that we can discount the people who claim it’s flat. But we’ve made an editorial judgement there and we’ve decided to ignore a bunch of voices. We’re not granting them equivalence because we know the science points to the world being spherical. The same thing comes into climate change. We know it’s happening and the far more interesting debate that our readers want to know about exists in a range of opinion about what to do about it and we accept that that is happening. We have to apply that lens across a number of different stories, but that’s fair and it’s acting in the interests of our readers. But at that point you are making judgements about which opinions to ignore and there will be some opinions which, for whatever reason we decide to downplay. It might come from a political party which is very small, for instance, quite marginal, so your voices aren’t the same as the mainstream and they aren’t as important to our readers as the mainstream. So, we have to make judgements like that all the time. And we also have to resist the temptation to go after fringe voices for novelty value because that’s just adding to the noise and that’s not our job.”

Journalists need to make informed decisions about which views to represent and how much time to give them. A good rule of thumb is that the more controversial a subject the more important it is to reflect different perspectives.  Impartiality is particularly challenging in times of conflict or war. Impartiality is not the same as neutrality. Nor are journalists expected to be neutral or detached from fundamental democratic principles, such as the right to vote, freedom of expression and the rule of law.

There are some situations one simply cannot be neutral about, because when you are neutral you are an accomplice. Objectivity doesn’t mean treating all sides equally. It means giving each side a hearing.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN

Personal opinions: Nobody consuming news, whether broadcast, online or print, should be able to tell a journalist’s personal views or how they feel about the issue being covered. It’s very important to remember this principle in terms of your social media accounts. Even if your news coverage is impartial, if the public is aware of your personal views their perception of your impartiality will be damaged.

  • You’re the editor. You’ve got a political correspondent who is brilliant at finding stories. He’s also very active on social media. He uses social platforms to flag up his work and post analysis of political stories. Recently the government has announced new security measures, of which your correspondent has been openly critical. He’s posted several comments calling for the government to scrap proposals to increase police surveillance powers. What do you do?

  • Speak to your correspondent. Remind him that his social media presence is an extension of his role as a journalist. He needs to employ exactly the same values of accuracy, independence and fairness in his social media posts as he would in his published reporting. He’s at risk of compromising his independence as a journalist and damaging public trust in his reporting.

The BBC views all social media activity by staff, whether official BBC accounts or personal accounts, to be subject to the Corporation’s Editorial Guidelines. It says   “We should take particular care about maintaining our impartiality on social media, both in our professional and personal activities…. BBC staff should avoid bringing the BBC into disrepute through their actions on social media.” So how does this work in reality?

Nina Kheladze

from TOK TV, Georgia

Transcript: “Journalist behaviour in the social network, freedom of expression and professional standards are very important to us. At the stage of hiring a new employee we inform the potential candidate that she or he will have to take into account certain restrictions regarding behaviour on social networks. 
We have an SM guide and also follow the rules of the charter of journalistic ethics. At the same time we do not restrict journalists from following the pages of politicians or political groups or becoming members of their groups. But we tell them that they should refrain from commenting and entering into open discussions as well as from reacting, so that this behaviour won’t be interpreted to editorial taste. In the course of our practice, we had a case when under a third person’s Facebook post a representative of the opposition party responded to our journalist’s comment to which our journalist in turn responded and then agreed with the critical statement. As an editorial approach we contacted this journalist shortly and asked him to remove the comment. She shared our approach and deleted the text. A few months ago, we had an almost similar case when one journalist used a cynical expression in a post towards one very famous political figure, which we also asked to remove, and it was removed.”

What about ‘experts’ who participate in news coverage? News organisations need to be alert to the potential for academics, other journalists, charity workers or business commentators to express views which are biased, prejudiced or not impartial. In this instance you should always be ready to provide relevant facts or information such as the expert’s affiliations or funding, so the audience can have context for the expert’s views.

Conflicts of Interest

Conflicts of interest arise when a journalist or a contributor has connections which appear to undermine their ability to be impartial. This can be a financial connection (a scientist is paid by a sugar manufacturer to produce a report on whether sugar consumption is damaging to health), a personal connection (a journalist is married to a soldier who is currently deployed to a war zone) or a social connection (a news presenter is an active member of a political party). 
Often the problem with a conflict of interest is one of perception. The journalist may be able to carry out their work with impartiality and fairness, but the audience may reasonably question whether the journalist’s affiliations will affect their impartiality and integrity.

  • There’s a story about a big technology firm in your region, alleging that the company has been illegally mining personal data from customers and selling it to political campaigners. Your reporter is excellent at tech stories but is the niece of the company owner and has the same last name. She’s posted pictures of herself with her uncle on social media. You as the newsroom editor know that she will cover the story impartially, so what should you do?

  • You have no choice but to send a different reporter even though you know she will be impartial. The perception of bias will be damaging to your organisation’s reputation. The reporter may also not be able to be as impartial as she would like – unconscious bias is very difficult to counter and you shouldn’t expect her to.

All employees should be asked to declare any personal interests which could potentially affect their work. Managers need to use their judgement in deciding what action is needed. It will depend on the kind of stories the journalist is covering, their role in the story, how senior they are and the environment in which they work. For example, having a presenter who is an active member of a political party may only be a potential conflict of interest during a general election or if there is a particular political story.

ELECTIONS: When covering elections, it is important to be aware and follow specific local rules, regulations and restrictions.


Fairness matters. It matters within the newsroom, making sure that everyone has the tools to do their jobs and is respected and encouraged to do that job to the best of their ability. Equality of opportunity for women and minority groups is vital to a newsroom, because it helps develop the best journalists and the widest range of stories. Fairness also matters outside the newsroom. Journalists need to treat contributors and sources fairly, and to be fair to those who are the subject of reports.   One of the most fundamental aspects of fairness is the right of reply. This means journalists need to work hard to give those against whom allegations have been made the right to defend themselves, whether they are an individual or an organisation. This should always be a newsroom’s default position unless there is a clear public interest, or issues of legality, safety or confidentiality which mean you have to keep some information back. Usually, a decision like this would be made by a senior editorial figure. 

  • You’re the editor. Your reporter has an exclusive about how the government has given a valuable contract to a political donor without going through the proper procurement processes. Your reporter has gone through all the appropriate steps to gather information, double source all the allegations, get documentary proof and verify the facts. The final step is to give the government a right of reply. But they’re stalling. You want to go to press tomorrow, but the government spokesperson is not returning your calls and you suspect they’re trying to delay the story. What do you do?

  • You contact the government spokesperson via email and messaging and tell them they have 24 hours to respond. If they don’t reply in that timeframe, you report that you approached the government for comment, and they did not respond. If need be, you can go back through previous government statements on this issue and find a quote that you can use (“last May a government minister pledged that all the proper processes would be followed”). If after publication the government does respond, you report what they say as a follow up story.

Fairness ties in with the issues of accuracy and impartiality which we’ve already considered. Accuracy supports fairness because it reflects the facts of a story accurately and proportionately. Impartiality also supports fairness, because it gives a voice to different viewpoints and helps to avoid the narrative being dominated by the powerful or the majority. It’s about reflecting the views of as many people as possible, including those who are often marginalised or excluded. Robust ethical processes within a newsroom will be reflected in the way journalists behave outside the newsroom. 

Alina Girnet

from Diez Moldova

Transcript: “Our whole activity and mission is focused on our audience. We wouldn’t be journalists if there wasn’t an audience to inform. In time we have learned that in order to earn the reader’s trust a newsroom should maintain its ethical principles in all activities, including the commercial ones, talk publicly about its ethical principles so that the audience could follow them in the reporting activity. Take public responsibility for its reporting errors and always clear up a mess. React to any kind of feedback constructively. Keep to its declared mission and values and talk about the team with names and faces.”

How to get started

Writing a set of editorial guidelines might feel impossible at the start but remember it doesn’t have to be complicated. Many established news organisations, such as the BBC or the New York Times, publish their editorial guidelines. There may be a national or regional editorial code of conduct in place. These can be a helpful place to start considering what your organisation needs, and how to outline the fundamental principles on which your newsroom is founded. Each news organisation will have its own unique situation, and no single set of editorial guidelines will suit every newsroom.

Alina Girnet

from Diez Moldova

Transcript: “At Diez, we have created our editorial guidelines during our 10 year long activity. We didn’t have it on paper from the beginning since we needed time to develop our mission, to gain experience, make mistakes and understand better the needs of our audience in order to start drafting a document that would guide our activity in time. We have always followed the general code of ethics, but we soon realized that having an internal document is very important to us as we have special role among our colleagues from other newsrooms. We have a specific audience we are targeting and that’s young people from Moldova, Romanian and Russian speakers. We focus on niche topics that would be interesting for them and we are involved in many educational projects. In addition to what we gathered from our experience we have analysed what kind of guidelines other national and international media organizations have, and this helped us compare our visions and refer to the ones that are aligned with our organisation.”

In order to create editorial guidelines, you need to understand your organisation’s main tasks and challenges.This should be reflected in your editorial guidelines. For example, if you operate in an environment where disinformation and misleading UGC is prevalent you may want to emphasise the need for verification, double sourcing and fact checking. If you frequently see colleagues posting their personal opinion  on social media, then you may focus on impartiality and how even perceived bias can damage the relationship between a news organisation and its audience.    

Think about dilemmas and challenges that you and your colleagues have faced and discuss how best to draw up broad principles which would guide journalists in how to deal with similar situations. New challenges, such as conflict, changes in legislation or technological developments, need to be reflected in the guidance offered to newsrooms. Editorial guidelines can and should be updated regularly. 

Alina Girnet

from Diez Moldova

Transcript: “Normally an organization should review its guidelines every year. In practice you are doing it every day or better said every time it is needed, considering that new situations could happen, and new reactions and practices should be applied according to them. For example, if there was an urgent situation that would require more reporting on the new social media channel, then we would probably need guidelines for how to report there. Also, many old situations could lose their relevance in time. So, as we update a live text every hour, we should keep live track of our editorial guidelines as well.”

Editorial guidelines are not there to stop you covering stories. Instead, they are there to show you how to ensure that your content is as robust, accurate, impartial and fair as possible. Your news stories will stand up to scrutiny, and your audience will be able to trust them.

Neil McIntosh

from New Scotsman UK

Transcript: “I think trust starts with the way we gather our material, so it’s the guidelines that we have around how we gather material, how we present it, it’s the training that journalists have, the understanding of how far we’ll go to collect a story or collect information and where we will not go to collect information, and to what extent we’ll press people who, for instance, have been the victims of tragedy or the extent to which we will go and get information that’s not particularly public. There’s a necessity in journalism to explore the limits of that all the time of course but guidelines help us understand where those limits lie. It starts there, but also comes in the way we present information, the way we edit it, so we don’t remove checks and balances and qualifications from stories whether they’re in text or in video. Even if we have to tell a story in a compressed way, we have to make sure we do so fairly. And then there’s the context in which we present our output so the images we’re choosing or the video we’re choosing alongside a story, the setting in which a story’s placed and all these things come together and are all done, or should all be done, with the reader in mind. We’ve got to be asking ourselves every single time what does the reader need from us around this story.”

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