Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Confessions of a professional journalist

Journ`lists do not normally confess their sins; they usually get others to do so. This is why veteran sports journalist Jeff Meade’s column in the Monroe (Mich.) Evening News listing some of his journalistic transgressions provides much to consider – courtesy of JimRomenesko.com.
From fudging quotes to asking out an interview subject, the column’s headline “Journalism Students: Don’t Do This” was apropos. The paper’s editor, who was on vacation when the column was written, was not pleased.
This blog post is meant not to castigate or praise Meade. Rather, let us start a dialogue here. First, do we operate under the assumption that journalists never take shortcuts? We have seen what happens when “news” is rushed on the air without verification. Or columns are written well in advance of an event.

Just because some transgressions -- and their negative consequences -- are publicized does not mean many more are not committed. (Before continuing, I would like to say that the hundreds of journalists I have worked with and have competed against take pride in their work and hold their ethical responsibility in the highest regard as most journalists do). Therefore, I posit two questions:

1.) Should news agencies devote some of their precious scarce resources to checking up on their reporters? The public trust should be the most sacred thing to journalists. News organizations have a duty to make sure that the information they give the public is honest and can withstand scrutiny.
2.) Would news agencies be better off if their staffs regularly described some of their ethical lapses? (This would most likely have to be done anonymously.) I personally do not know journalists who make up quotes or break journalistic rules, but often the ethical failings that do occur in the industry have at least some roots in the structures of newsrooms. Problems can be fixed only when they are brought to light. If by making a few adjustments editors can lower the temptation to commit ethical breaches, this can only make journalism better.

Despite the fact newsrooms are shrinking and the pressure of being first on various media platforms grows daily, journalists cannot forget that the news industry is ultimately about benefiting the public. Any ways that can improve the business should be explored.
-- Steve Bien-Aimé

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