‘USA Today’ Editor Tightens Sourcing Rules, Promotes ‘Integrity Coach’

By: Joe Strupp

Less than two months after taking over USA Today in the wake of the Jack Kelley scandal, Editor Ken Paulson has made several changes aimed at improving the paper’s credibility and public image.

In the wake of the first of what Paulson promises will be regular monthly staff meetings — held June 8 — the new newsroom leader explained several moves, including even tighter restrictions on the use of confidential sources.

Previously, reporters wishing to use a confidential or anonymous source had to inform his or her direct supervisor of the person’s identity. Now, one of the paper’s five managing editors or a higher ranking editor will have to sign off on the use of each unnamed source, Paulson said.

“And the managing editor has to make a judgment that the source is absolutely essential to the story and the value to readers outweighs the potential damage to our credibility,” Paulson told E&P.

Paulson also created a new position, standards and development editor, naming former development editor Adel Crowe to the post. “Her job is to read the paper very closely each day and make sure we are living up to our commitment to readers,” he explained. “If she sees we are not following a policy, she can address it. It is not an internal affairs or ombudsman position; it is sort of an integrity coach.”

USA Today (Click for QuikCap) has had an ombudsman-type position for several years, held by reader representative Brent Jones. Paulson recently gave Jones more prominence, directing that his photo run daily on the editorial page. along with an invitation for readers to send in any concerns about the paper .

“One of the big problems readers have had is that when they wanted to raise concerns, they could not,” Paulson said. “(Jones) is also now meeting every day with the managing editors about what readers have told him in the previous 24 hours.”

The new editor also launched an effort to get more enterprise and investigative projects going, announcing that all staffers are asked to submit project ideas that will be reviewed by Paulson and two other editors. If any of the ideas are accepted, the reporter or reporters who suggested them will be given a week to dig up enough proof that the story is worthwhile. “It is designed to encourage good ideas throughout the newsroom,” Paulson said.

Paulson, who took over on April 29, replaced former editor Karen Jurgensen, who resigned in the wake of the Kelly scandal. Kelly quit in January after questions arose over the validity of numerous stories he had written going back several years. His departure prompted an in-depth internal investigation that revealed he had routinely fabricated elements of dozens of stories and sought to cover up his misdeeds, while the paper had systematic problems with editorial oversight, sourcing reviews, and newsroom morale.

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