Last updated: 14 April 2014
CRN aims to serve the Body of Christ as an authoritative and edifying source of information on current church issues. We present the facts responsibly and help people understand their implications. Our desire is to proclaim Jesus Christ and His life, death and resurrection for sinners, as revealed in the Scriptures.
The CRN editorial team has produced these guidelines to help facilitate this aim. If the Lord is pleased to see CRN’s reputation grow, we pray that this will in turn bring a wider audience to the content that we are all creating and posting there. In other words, this document is intended to help us together reach and serve a wider audience with the best material that we are capable of producing.
Where not self evident, we have endeavoured to explain why a guideline exists. Contributors are essential to the success of CRN, and we’d like you to understand how the guidelines are intended for the benefit of both readers and contributors.
Work in progress
These guidelines are – and will remain – a work in progress. Some are, inevitably, the result of pragmatic decisions balancing a number of competing factors. Some will be imperfect. We therefore welcome your comments and suggestions.
We recommend that you subscribe to the LetterOfMarque mailing list to stay current with developments at CRN and changes to these guidelines. The important messages will have their subjects prefixed with ‘ANNOUNCEMENT:’, so you may filter out any others if you wish to minimize the mail volume.
Contacting the editors
Email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org will, in general, be read by all the editors.
- We aim to uphold the highest standards of ethical integrity in our work.
- We are ambassadors. We remember that our words can harm the reputation of CRN, its contributors and editors, and – more importantly – of our Lord and His Church.
- Our posts accord with the historic orthodox Christian Faith.
- We post only that material which we believe will serve and edify the Church.
- We show respect for our readers and aim to be authoritative. We therefore post (or commend) only that material which is factually accurate, well written and grammatical.
- We verify facts and assertions and, wherever possible, state our sources.
- We give attribution for all material that we reuse from elsewhere.
- We thoroughly research a topic before covering it.
- We accurately and fairly represent the views and opinions of others.
- We avoid hyperbole and sensational conjecture.
- We are careful not to use quotations out of context to suggest an unwarranted conclusion.
- We endeavour to avoid partial truths and errors of omission.
- We consider alternative perspectives and other interpretations of any evidence we use.
- Where necessary to present a fair picture, we explain what we do not know.
- We acknowledge our responsibility to be demonstrably truthful. We believe it better not to post than (even inadvertently) to mislead.
- We are mindful that it is a very serious matter to impugn someone’s character falsely. We recognize that we are commanded by God not to bear false witness and that, in a litigious society, there could be serious temporal ramifications if we make erroneous claims.
- We are careful to avoid even the appearance of suggesting guilt by mere association. Thus, we will not criticize an association or relationship without demonstrating why it is problematic from a Biblical perspective, also showing that we have evaluated and eliminated (based upon clear evidence) any potentially legitimizing circumstances.
- We apply these ethical standards not only to our own posts, but to the offsite articles we recommend.
Post categories exist to help people find the type of content that interests them. Think of them as the regular sections of a newspaper. By having top-level pages for the main categories on the site, we also help content to stay readily available for longer than it would do if we merely presented new content on the home page. The current categories are as follows:
- Factual reporting in a neutral tone – the epitome of good reporting. If the tone is not neutral, the Opinion category should be used instead. Note that the overall effect of an article does not have to be neutral with respect to its topic, but the language should be rhetoric free and only sourced facts should be presented. Personal commentary should be avoided.
- Commentary, analysis or opinion pieces, or any news or informational article that is expressed in anything other than a strictly neutral tone. Opinions should still be substantiated and facts sourced as necessary.
- Reviews of books, articles, movies, sermons, events, etc. Reviews may be written according to the guidelines either for the News or Opinion categories, at your discretion.
- Helpful Bible teaching, homiletics, exegesis, encouragement, articles about Christian doctrine, etc. Although primarily a current issues site, a diet of pure news and opinion can be wearing for readers. This category provides the essential antidote.
- Humorous or satirical material. Posts categorized as Satire should still make a substantive point, and do it well.
- Research Article
- By default, the research page for a taxonomy term (i.e. a person, organization, event or topic) merely lists the articles on CRN tagged with that term. However, if a Research Article exists and is tagged with the term, it is displayed above the article links on the appropriate research page. There should be at most one Research Article for each taxonomy term, and it should be tagged with the single term (person, organization, event or topic) for which it should be displayed. Research Articles should be written in accord with the guidelines for the News category.
- This is a legacy category for existing posts, until they are reclassified or expunged. This category should not be used for new posts.
- Visitors will not want to have to process the same material more than once as they browse multiple categories. Therefore, choose the single category that best fits an article.
- For posts of the Link post format (see Post formats, below), choose the single category that best fits the article which is being linked.
- The automatic Twitter message that is sent when a post is published is prefixed with the category, so choose the category before publishing a post.
- Don’t use Uncategorized for new posts – uncategorized articles will drop off the top-level pages sooner than those that are categorized. If what you are submitting does not fit into one of the other categories, contact a CRN editor for advice.
- If writing a post that links to several different offsite articles that are clearly in different categories, consider creating separate posts and categorizing each appropriately.
- Before you write an Opinion piece, consider writing a News article instead. Though there is nothing wrong with opinion/commentary pieces, a neutral presentation of the facts can often be more valuable. News articles serve as authoritative sources of information; they can be especially useful references for authors writing subsequent Opinion pieces.
The purpose of tagging posts with taxonomy terms (people, organizations, events, topics) is to make it possible for visitors interested in that term to find highly relevant articles.
We are working towards rationalizing the existing generic tags and converting them to the new person, organization, event and topic taxonomies presented on the Research page. Do not use the remaining generic tags for new posts – they will eventually cease to exist.
- Please tag posts with the appropriate and relevant taxonomy terms.
- However, if a post is of transient relevance (that is, it has a short shelf life), do not tag it with any terms.
- When choosing terms, ask whether a visitor interested in a term would want to see this particular article. If the answer to that question is yes, go ahead and tag.
- Do not tag a post with a term simply because that term happens to be mentioned in the article. Only tag a post with a term if it is substantively about that term.
- Likewise, do not tag a post with a person who is the author of the post or a linked article. The relevant question to ask is, ‘Is this piece substantively about the person with whom I am about to tag it?’ Tagging with the person is appropriate if, and only if, the answer to that question is yes.
- As a rule of thumb, posts should generally be tagged with no more than three taxonomy terms. High relevance is critical for terms to be useful to visitors – we do not want to present articles of only marginal interest to visitors researching a term.
- Do not create new terms or tags. While it is marginally inconvenient for contributors not to be able to add terms themselves, the payoff is that we maintain consistency, order and relevance for our readers.
- If you need a taxonomy term that does not exist, please ask a CRN editor to consider adding it.
Two formats are currently offered when you create a new post:
- Articles whose primary content resides on CRN and that are authored by the submitting contributor. When displayed, standard posts prefix the post contributor in the metadata with the text ‘By’, indicating authorship.
- Articles whose primary content resides offsite. Most CRN posts to date would fall into this category. The contributor for link posts is prefixed with ‘Posted by’, rather than ‘By’.
- Choose the appropriate post format when you create a post.
- The goal of posting an article of the Link format is to encourage readers to view the linked article. The value that CRN adds is to present the linked article to a wider audience than it otherwise might receive.
- With that in mind, Link posts should present the reader with a compelling reason to view the linked article. The best way of doing this is to summarize the content of the article and highlight why it is relevant to the reader.
- Many worthwhile articles do not grab the reader’s attention in the opening paragraph. (Sometimes, they might not even broach their main topic in the opening sentences.) Consequently, it is often the case that a hand-crafted summary of a piece and its relevance will be much more effective in convincing a reader to visit the linked article than merely quoting its opening paragraphs.
- The previous point is particularly the case when the opening paragraphs are expressed in the first person. Unlike a personal blog, where readers are often well disposed towards receiving the opinions of the author, CRN visitors may have no idea who the author of a piece is, nor why they should care about his or her perspective. Link posts should supply the missing details that will make the reader care.
- Short link posts are generally preferable to long ones. Aim for concision – perhaps one or two short paragraphs. However, use as many words as is necessary to show readers why they should take the time to read the linked article.
- Link articles should generally end with a
[crn_link…], as shown in the Markup Reference.
Style and practical matters
Polemics and tone
A well-executed polemic, such as Luther’s Bondage of the Will, can be a powerful tool. Yet, the polemical form is easy to abuse, and polemics that overstate their case rarely do more than inflame the passions of an already persuaded choir. Furthermore, contemporary culture – and thus, much of the visible church, which is accommodated to that culture – is not well disposed towards finding polemical arguments persuasive, no matter how valid they may be.
A carefully crafted, balanced piece is likely to be read and appreciated by a much wider audience than a polemical piece presenting exactly the same information. This is because people are more likely to share a piece (via Facebook, Twitter, etc.) if its tone and language do not needlessly offend, and if the piece thus comes across as credible and authoritative. They are then also more likely to share it with their friends who currently hold contrary views. Balanced, neutrally written pieces are, in general, also likely to be more persuasive to those undecided on a topic than articles that seem to come from a biased perspective – even if that bias is entirely appropriate and Biblical.
Since CRN exists primarily to inform and secondarily to persuade, it follows that the polemical form will not generally be appropriate. CRN provides us with an opportunity to do much more than simply preach to the choir, and we encourage all contributors to make the most of that.
- Posts should be of general interest to at least a portion of the CRN readership and germane to the purpose of CRN.
- Aim for concise, objective language. Research shows this to be more effective at imparting information than language that exhibits a bias.
- If a piece expresses an opinion, it should do so in a way that is likely to:
- Better inform those already of like mind, reinforcing correct perspectives with solid evidence and sound argumentation;
- Help persuade persuadable undecideds in a responsible way;
- Give those who are currently settled on the contrary position serious cause to reevaluate their views.
- Give each post an engaging and accurate title that will draw visitors into reading it. (The category and title are all that is seen on Twitter, and the title may be all that is visible for some posts on the home page when that is redesigned.)
- Post titles should use book title capitalization. Although they appear on the main pages in uppercase, the Research pages and Twitter show the capitalization as entered.
- Adhere to the relevant category guidelines.
- Carefully spellcheck and proofread posts before submitting them.
- Verify that all the links in your posts work before you submit an article. Use Preview and test links to be sure.
- Where possible, link directly to primary sources and not to reposts (not even your own) that add little or no value for a CRN visitor. Readers do not appreciate a link chase (CRN → Blog A → Blog B → Primary Source) to find the relevant content of interest.
- It is a good idea to monitor the CRN Twitter account for any feedback on your posts. Although sometimes uncomfortable, reader comments can often prove useful in honing an article to remedy any weaknesses. Positive feedback is, of course, encouraging.
- Except where noted to the contrary, stylistic questions will be settled by reference to The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition or The Oxford Manual of Style.
Post formatting and markup
Please abide by the CRN Style Guide and Markup Reference.
Post submission and review
CRN is changing to a submit-for-review model for new posts. This means that posts will benefit from a brief review by a CRN editor prior to publication, in an attempt to clean-up any formatting problems or inconsistencies, catch any inadvertent breach of these guidelines, or spot anything else that appears obviously problematic. (CRN editors automatically receive an email whenever a new post is submitted for review.)
The review process will thus help to ensure that CRN readers receive consistently high-quality content. It will also enable every contributor to benefit from the (we pray) growing reputation of CRN.
Please expect feedback on your submissions, especially as we all adjust to these guidelines. The editors do understand that it can be a little annoying for contributors to receive suggestions on their carefully crafted submissions, but they desire to help you serve the Church with the best content you can produce. Your help in making the review process as painless and straightforward as possible is very much appreciated.
Persistence of content
Some posts are, by their nature, short lived. Many link to sources that themselves cease to exist. Others become obsolete as circumstances change or these guidelines are updated. When encountered, the editors will endeavour to remove such material and thus ensure that CRN provides visitors with relevant, high quality content. Consequently, please be aware that, even if a post is accepted, there is no guarantee that it will stay on CRN forever.
- Read and understand the EFF’s Legal Guide for Bloggers chapter on Online Defamation Law.
- Be extremely careful never to post an article (whether or not authored by you) that makes what could be considered a false statement of fact that is harmful to someone’s reputation.
It is essential that CRN and its contributors adhere to the relevant legislation concerning copyright. As Christians, this is a matter of integrity – we ought always to adhere to the legitimate legal framework in which we find ourselves. Copyright infringement – even if unintentional – can also prove very expensive.
There are perhaps Fair Use justifications for using a photo of, say, Paula White, to illustrate a post about her. But a Fair Use defence is often very shaky and may well not stand up in court. For example, see Apparent Inconsistencies in Fair Use Cases in the article The Fuss About Fair Use.
As a cautionary tale, see Legal Lesson Learned: Copywriter Pays $4,000 for $10 Photo. Substitute ‘CRN Contributor’ for ‘Copywriter’, and you will understand the relevance of the guidelines in this section. $4,000 can buy a lot of legitimate image use.
As well as images, content of other types (e.g. text, audio, video) is also automatically subject to copyright protection. In general, it is thus illegal simply to reproduce such content verbatim in its entirety (even if it is fairly short), unless permission has previously been obtained from the copyright holder.
- Read and understand the EFF’s Legal Guide for Bloggers chapter on Intellectual Property.
- Adhere to the relevant copyright law when reusing any content that you have not authored and provide attribution.
- Where permission to repost material has been granted, state this clearly.
- The only entirely safe policy for incidental images is to use solely those for which we have express permission to publish. (Where an image is integral to a story, we have a stronger basis for arguing Fair Use.)
- CRN’s policy is thus not to use images unless:
- They are essential and integral to the story, or
- We have express permission to use them, or
- In the opinion of the editors, their use carries a very low risk (e.g. a thumbnail of the official publicity material for a conference or event used to illustrate a post about that event).
- From now on, CRN will give proper attribution for all incidental images. This may be required (e.g. in the case of Wikimedia Commons images licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license), but attribution also documents the source of the image and thus the legitimacy of our use.
- The CRN theme has been updated to accommodate photo attribution. You can view an example.
- Since we do want to illustrate at least some of our articles, the CRN editors have compiled an approved list of legitimate image sources (additional suggestions are welcome). They are:
- The Wikimedia Commons, a database of freely usable media files. Attribution is often required as a condition of use, however.
- Stock.xchng, a free stock photo library. Again, attribution may be required.
- iStockPhoto.com, a source of images for which payment must be made. Images from here will typically cost $3-$4 dollars each to use. Images licensed will be for use on CRN only, and must not be used by CRN Contributors on other sites. CRN has funding to license images, but restraint in our use of this resource is required.
- Freedigitalphotos.net, a library of images that are usable in small sizes without payment.
- Other images for which we have express permission to use. For example, an event’s website might have a page providing official resources for media use, or we might have contacted an individual and obtained permission to use his or her official photos on CRN.
- Contributors are encouraged (but not required) to suggest to the editors an image from an approved source that may be used to illustrate their articles.
Legal and moral responsibility
Each CRN contributor takes full responsibility for his or her own work. We rely upon one another to maintain our good reputations by posting only carefully researched, accurate and well-written material.
Be mindful that the editors are unable to be knowledgeable in all subject areas, do not have the time or ability to verify that contributors have presented only properly researched facts in an appropriate fashion, have no legal expertise, and are unable to ensure that posts comply with any or all relevant legislation. The editors therefore specifically disclaim legal responsibility for the content produced by contributors, and CRN contributors thus necessarily retain full and sole legal and moral responsibility for the content of their articles. Contributors should therefore submit articles with appropriate diligence and caution.
Other relevant material
The following will be of interest to contributors: