What to the what?! Can this be true?

Today, NPR is introducing staffers to a new Ethics Handbook that has been in the works for more than a year and illustrates how the organization is taking steps to safeguard against some of the ethical dilemmas it’s faced in the past.

So, is this a good thing or a bad thing? Does it uphold truth-telling and real journalism or codify cowardly FOX-emulating “he said, she said” propaganda?

Here’s what Jay Rosen has to say about it:

In my view the most important changes are these passages:

In all our stories, especially matters of controversy, we strive to consider the strongest arguments we can find on all sides, seeking to deliver both nuance and clarity. Our goal is not to please those whom we report on or to produce stories that create the appearance of balance, but to seek the truth.

and….

At all times, we report for our readers and listeners, not our sources. So our primary consideration when presenting the news is that we are fair to the truth. If our sources try to mislead us or put a false spin on the information they give us, we tell our audience. If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side, we acknowledge it in our reports. We strive to give our audience confidence that all sides have been considered and represented fairly.

With these words, NPR commits itself as an organization to avoid the worst excesses of “he said, she said” journalism. It says to itself that a report characterized by false balance is a false report. It introduces a new and potentially powerful concept of fairness: being “fair to the truth,” which as we know is not always evenly distributed among the sides in a public dispute.

Maintaining the “appearance of balance” isn’t good enough, NPR says. “If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side…” we have to say so. When we are spun, we don’t just report it. “We tell our audience…” This is spin! (Update: The new policy is already having an effect.)

Wow. If this isn’t a mirage, it’s the best news I’ve heard all year.