The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities


The BackStory on Writing BackStory’s Code of Ethics

In the interest of maintaining the quality and integrity of our work, BackStory is working to establish a code of ethics that will help to make our storytelling process more transparent for those who serve as sources for our work and for our audience. We also need to consider the unique space we occupy as historian journalists and, particularly, we want to provide a better way to cite sources across our work.

To begin, we looked at the ways BackStory currently provides attribution across our digital channels:

  • On the BackStory podcast, the interview source (the person you hear speaking to one of our hosts or producers) receives credit with their full name, title, organization and the title of the book he/she/they authored if the book was also used as resource material for the episode segment.
  • On the BackStory website, the sources heard on the podcast are credited by name with hyperlinks back to a website that helps to establish the individual’s credentials as an expert. Links can lead to faculty pages and personal websites, but not to any destination that could be construed as payment for services including publisher website pages with purchasing capabilities or retail sites like Amazon. (An exception to this would be a book list.) Please note that BackStory’s blog primarily uses AP or Chicago Style and follows the forms of attribution suggested by those style manuals.
  • On BackStory social media, we use quotes when appropriate and will name and/or tag the source where appropriate. Media shared on our social pages is always linked back to the original source.

Then we started thinking about some of the ways we could make the process of giving credit more comprehensive. BackStory’s hosts are academic historians and our researchers are PhD students (most researchers are PhD candidates by the time they start with BackStory). However, the remainder of the production and communications staff is almost exclusively journalists. While the ways historians and journalists are trained to give credit are very different, the differences are bridgeable, especially if the medium is print or the web.

It gets tricky when it comes to audio because the goal is to make the story listenable for the audience. BackStory research preps have reading lists with an average of 15 books. Some of those books directly influence an episode, but most don’t. After all of the reading and research is complete, we typically only talk to one scholar per episode segment and that individual has synthesized the work of countless other scholars. (“Your Guide to Thinking Like a Historian” (from a North Carolina State University faculty member) gives great insight into what that can actually look like:

The ultimate question is, who out of potentially dozens of scholars gets credit in the audio and who gets credit elsewhere?

Here are some of the things we’re working through:

  • Do we acknowledge the scholars whose work directly influenced a segment in the audio alongside the scholar we actually interviewed?
  • Do we publish the book lists from the preps?
  • Should any of this go into the show notes, especially since show notes aren’t supported uniformly by podcast apps? (More info on what that looks like in your favorite podcast apps via Podnews:

If you’ve spent any time on BackStory’s website recently, you’ll see that we’re already experimenting with different forms of giving credit to those who aren’t heard in the show.

Throughout this process, we’ve consulted the codes of media organizations as well as associations for historians. Here’s a quick list of what we’ve reviewed:

National Council on Public History Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct

NPR Ethics Handbook

Organization of American Historians Statement on Honesty and Integrity

Radio Television Digital News Association Code of Ethics

Below you’ll find the beginnings of our code of ethics. It was prepared in part using the Online News Association’s Build-Your-Own Ethics Code project. (Create your own at

BackStory wants to establish fundamentals in these four areas:

Telling the truth

Example: BackStory will be honest, accurate, truthful and fair. We will not distort or fabricate facts, imagery, sound or data.

Conflicts of interest

Example: BackStory does not allow people to make us dishonestly skew our storytelling and we do not offer to skew our reporting under any circumstances.

Example: BackStory does not allow the interests of advertisers or others funding our work to affect the integrity of our stories.


Example: BackStory respects our audience and those we tell stories about. We consider how our work and its permanence may affect the subjects of our podcasts, our community and ­­since the Internet knows no boundaries ­­ the larger world.

Professional Conduct

Example: BackStory does not plagiarize or violate copyrights.

BackStory is also considering these additional areas based on suggestions from ONA:

Children: Coverage, Images and Interviews


  • An interview does not guarantee publishing. BackStory reserves the right to determine when and if any interview is ever published, including, but not limited to the podcast, website and social media platforms.

Sources: Reliability and Attribution


Balance and Fairness

Online Commenting


Withholding Names

Community Activities

Gifts, Free Travel and Other Perks

  • All BackStory staff are University of Virginia employees and follow the gift guidelines established by UVA:

Plagiarism and Attribution

Political Activities by Staff

Social Networks

Awards and Contests



Freelance Work by Employees

Handling and protection of freelancers and “fixers”

Removing Archived Work

Reporting On Our Organization


Hate Speech



Race and Gender

Sensational Material



Photo and Video

User-Generated Content

Accepting money

Clickbait and Metrics

News and Advertising