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After conflict-of-interest questions, NPR is tweaking its financial disclosure rules

Beginning today, rank-and-file journalists at NPR are responsible for making sure appropriate financial disclosures are made in their stories — and they have the information to make that happen.

Until now, the responsibility to disclose who funds NPR’s journalism was left to senior supervising producers. But in response to conflict-of-interest questions raised by NPR’s coverage of the Iran deal (a review found no journalistic impropriety), the public radio network is putting that power in the hands of reporters and editors.

According to an announcement Thursday from NPR’s ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen, NPR will now make its line editors “responsible for keeping up-to-date with the monthly lists of funders and adding any needed disclosures to their reports.”

This change, Jensen wrote, was brought about to put a “window” into NPR’s traditional firewall between its funders and its journalism. Last year, that system broke down after the network neglected to disclose a $100,000 grant from anti-nuke Ploughshares Fund in its reporting on the Iran Deal. Here’s Jensen:

The old process, with the firewall firmly in place, did not work last year in the case of the grant-funded coverage of the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal—needed disclosures were not made. If cutting a small ‘window’ in the firewall ensures that listeners also get the transparency they are due while still guarding the independence of NPR’s newsroom, I am willing to give it a chance to work.

Mark Memmott, NPR’s standards and practices editor, told Jensen that “briefing our journalists about what organizations and which individuals are giving us support puts the newsroom in a better position to relay that information to the public.”

‘I was trying to put myself in their shoes,’ he added to me: If a reporter’s name is on a story, making them ultimately responsible for the disclosure, then ‘don’t hide that information’ from them. He said he expects reporters to continue to be professional and that they will not let the information that someone they interview is a funder (or has been funded by an NPR funder) sway the reporting.

NPR receives about 14 percent of its annual budget from grants and contributions and about 24 percent from corporate sponsorships, according to its website.

Here’s Jensen’s full post.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics. He’s also reported for USA TODAY College and The Sacramento Bee, and he was editor in chief of The Orion, Chico State’s student-run newspaper. An Air Force brat who grew up around Northern California, he’s still adjusting to the Florida sunshine.

(via Poynter)