The 'Times' Wants the Truth: Are You a Liar?

We know it's been bugging you. Why can't the Times have freelancers and stringers who are as ethical as its staff reporters? (Because Times staffers are always paragons of ethics, right, David Pogue?) But now there's no more need to worry, kids. A mere three years after the Jayson Blair scandal broke, and a lickety-split year after the Siegal Committee delivered its report, the paper is pleased to announce its finally figured out how to ensure freelancers' integrity. Effective today, all Times freelancers and stringers won't be allowed to work for that paper until they have — of all onerous burdens — completed a questionnaire.

The questionnaire will ask about a freelancer's "affiliations, work history, financial and personal connections and any past instances when questions were raised about the accuracy or originality of their work," according to today's memo from Al Siegal and Craig Whitney, and we particularly like that last part. We're sure they'll now catch untold ne'er-do-wells and fabricators when they answer that, yes, legitimate questions have been raised about their previous work. Ah, the power of questionnaires.

Full memo is after the jump.

To the Newsroom:

Nearly three years ago, the Siegal Committee recommended that The Times learn more about its stringers and freelancers, to ensure that their ethical standards and credentials are equal to those of our regular staff. It has taken some time to develop electronic tools to put this recommendation into practice, but we are now ready to do so.

Effective on Monday, April 10, all of our freelance writers will be asked to fill out a questionnaire about their affiliations, work history, financial and personal connections and any past instances when questions were raised about the accuracy or originality of their work.

The questionnaire, which each freelancer will submit via the special Web site we have established for the new freelance assignment and payment system, will be reviewed by senior editors in the department for which the freelancer works. On the basis of the information submitted, the editors will determine what future assignments are appropriate for the stringer or freelancer.

Just as we have required signed contracts in recent years as a prerequisite for freelance work, we will now also require submission of the questionnaire. And just as we have required editors to verify that a freelancer has signed a contract before assigning work to that freelancer, we will also require editors to verify that the freelancer has been vetted. Both checks can be made using the new freelancer assignment and payment system.

This policy applies to freelance writers only, not to illustrators or photographers. In departments that are not yet using the new freelance payment system, the vetting requirement will go into effect when the new system is adopted.

Your desk administrators have been given detailed information about how the vetting system works. Please check with them for instructions.

If you have any questions about this policy, please e-mail Al Siegal, Craig Whitney or Nancy Sharkey. For technical help with the system, please e-mail James Wilkerson in News Technology.

thanks,
Al Siegal and Craig Whitney