- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2003

Shifting datelines
For astute newspaper readers, the most telling word or two in any story is often the dateline. An understanding of the rules that govern their use will make it easier to evaluate the coverage of the imminent war in Iraq.
Most American newspapers follow, with slight variations, the rules laid out in the Associated Press stylebook, which says a dateline "should tell the reader that the AP obtained the basic information for the story in the datelined city."
"Use a foreign dateline only if the basic information in a story was obtained by a full- or part-time correspondent physically present in the datelined community," the style guide says.
In other words, if we publish an article under a Baghdad dateline, it tells the reader that the reporter was in Baghdad when he or she collected the principal information in the article.
All reporters have stories of competitors who bent the rules. I recall the outrage among my colleagues when, years ago, a British reporter used an Addis Ababa dateline on a story about a coup attempt in Ethiopia after his plane had merely refueled at the Addis airport.
With feature stories, which can sit for several days before being published, it sometimes happens that the reporter has moved on to another city by the time the article appears. That is within the rules, but we try to avoid having a reporter writing from two different dateline communities in the same day's paper.
State Department reporter Nicholas Kralev, who accompanied Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on his East Asian tour last week, filed a story on a meeting in Seoul between the secretary and incoming South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun that bore the dateline "Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska."
Mr. Kralev had e-mailed the story to us from Elmendorf during a stopover on the way home, but that alone didn't mean he couldn't use the Seoul dateline. The choice of Alaska was our way of telling the readers that at least some of the information in the story came from a briefing delivered to reporters on board the plane.
During the coming war, readers will also see stories in which the reporting was done on board ships and planes. In such cases the dateline will read, for example, "Aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt."
There will also be stories in some publications with datelines like "In western Jordan," something I seek to avoid. In my wire service days, the rule was to use the nearest community large enough to have a post office.
Dated and undated
Most papers, during the war, will have a lead front-page story that seeks to round up all the major developments on the northern and southern war fronts, in Baghdad, and in the capitals of the major participants.
"When a story has been assembled from sources in widely separated areas, use no dateline," the AP style guide instructs. We generally describe such stories as "undated" and will no doubt handle some war roundups in that way.
Stories based on reporting done in Washington say from a Pentagon briefing also appear without datelines, which could cause some slight confusion. If we have a reporter present at a briefing at the U.S. military headquarters in Doha, Qatar, we might use that for the dateline and toss in information from other sources.
We try to make it clear in the body of the story when information was gathered in another city. The example in the AP style guide is 25 years old but the principle still applies:
"LONDON (AP) Prime Minister Wilson submitted his resignation today. In Washington, a State Department spokesman said the change in government leadership would have no effect on negotiations involving the Common Market."
Where more than one reporter has worked on a story, they can share the byline only if they are in the same datelined community. Otherwise we will put the second writer's name in a tagline in the bottom saying, for example, "David Sands in Washington contributed to this article." Or we can give them a joint byline and let the story run undated.
A careful reader of our pages would be able to tell from these rules that Betsy Pisik, who typically covers the United Nations, is in the Middle East awaiting the war. Meanwhile our coverage of efforts to secure a second U.N. resolution has been appearing without a New York deadline a tip-off that we are writing those stories from Washington.
David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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