Monday, January 02, 2006

The ethics of journalism: A proposal for reform 

A few days ago (before her big sex post), my co-blogger Cassandra unsheathed her mighty pen against the "profession" of journalism. Her first post sliced at the ethics of reporting classified information vital to our national security. The second slashed away at the hypocrisy of the New York Times, which has flip-flopped its editorial position on the matter of investigating leaks, seemingly depending on whose ox would be gored by the investigation proposed. In case you missed them, both posts are well worth your time.

Being something of a libertarian on hard core Bill of Rights questions, I am (I think) a bit less law-and-order than Cassandra on the matter of leaks of classified information. But then, I have the luxury (or the illusion of the luxury) to consider these questions in the abstract from the comfort of my corporate tool-hood in an idyllic college town. Cassandra's family stands on the wall. That's a difference that I remember, and for which we should all be grateful.

In any case, I am appalled that the press has gone ahead and published stories that palpably undermine our security in time of national peril over the specific request of the President of the United States. Yes, it is their lawful right to do so, but it is, frankly, disgusting that they have exercised that right. That the leak came through the same newspapers that thought that the outing of Valerie Plame was the worst affront to national security since Aldrich Ames exposes their political agenda in stark relief. That the New York Times seems to change the position of its unsigned editorials without a hint of acknowledgement gives away its own intellectual bankruptcy.

So what to do? Perhaps journalists, who refer to themselves inaccurately as "professionals" and are lobbying hard for special treatment under the law, should act like a profession. If the mainstream media want to be taken seriously as professionals in contrast to the "citizen journalists" they deride, they should enforce a code of professional responsibility. Newspapers, magazines and broadcasters that choose to adhere to the code could place an "ethics logo" prominently on their product. They would then empower an organization to publish deviations from that code, require participating media firms to issue retractions and corrections, and in severe cases remove that organization's right to use the ethics logo. This post discusses my proposals, none of which (I should caution) are for legal remedies.


The mainstream media are agitating for professional recognition and a particular federal legal status. They already have special status under various state statutes and court decisions. Since they want to be considered as a profession (although they generally objecting to the licensing requirements imposed on most genuine professions), journalists should strive to standardize their operating principles and provide mechanisms for their enforcement. My proposal involves two elements. First, I think newspapers and broadcasters should clarify whether they comply with a particular code of ethics, or not. Those that comply should indicate as much with a logo of some sort, just as comic book publishers who complied with the "Comics Code" were entitled to put the "Comics Code Authority" logo on the cover. Those that don't comply should admit as much, and let audiences and advertisers decide whether it matters.

Second, I think that journalists need to consider certain essential elements of the professional ethics codes that they have already promulgated. I am no expert in journalism, but it seems to me that Cassandra's posts point to four reforms that are not included in existing codes (among many other reforms one might imagine) that would substantially improve the credibility of the major newspapers and broadcasters. These relate to the use of anonymous sources and detection of the motives thereof, reporting that implicates national security, the role of national citizenship in reporting, and the requirement for historical candor in unsigned editorials. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of subjects that journalists should reconsider, but any one of these issues is so controversial and yet so important that I did not want to distract the discussion with many smaller topics.

Anonymous sources: A taxonomy, the importance of motives and proposed standards

Journalists often rely on anonymous or unnamed sources to tell their story. It seems to me that the value of an anonymous source is tremendously influenced by that source's motives. After all, very few anonymous sources are in a position to offer verifiable, incontrovertible facts supporting the truth of the matter alleged. Most anonymous sources seem to offer facts from only one perspective, or facts and opinion that may or may not turn out in the fullness of time to be complete, accurate or relevant. The motives of an anonymous source will often bear on the credibility of the source or point both the reporter and the reader to important facts or opinion that weigh against the source's position. Existing journalism codes of conduct recognize the importance of motive: "Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity."

What might motivate anonymous sources?

Sometimes, those sources are acting consistently with their formal duties -- a government may make much stronger statements "anonymously" than formally in order to retain deniability. Perhaps, for example, this week's "disclosure" in Der Spiegel that the United States was "preparing" to attack Iran was the product of an intentional leak designed to boost the credibility of our implicit threat to take military action if Iran does not back away from its nuclear weapons program. Let's call these sources "Sanctioned Sources."

Other times, those sources are undoubtedly acting in good faith to "blow the whistle," perhaps to expose legal or more wrongdoing in government. These are "Honest Whistleblowers."

Some leakers are acting consistently with the political interests of their chain of command, but not necessarily in the national interest. Perhaps Scooter Libby was doing this when he did whatever he did in the Plame affair. These sources are "Partisan Leakers."

Finally, some of these anonymous sources are waging a bureaucratic or political battle against other agencies or even up the chain of command to the White House. There is well-informed speculation that parts of the State Department and the CIA have been engaged in this sort of leak. Indeed, Joe Wilson's various eruptions undermining the government that employed his wife and bought his plane ticket to Niger may fall in this category. These sources are "Disloyal Leakers."

As we saw (or believe we saw) in the Plame case, Partisan Leakers are often responding to Disloyal Leakers, and vice versa. Assuming the conservative view of the facts, Joe Wilson was a Disloyal Leaker, and Scooter Libby was at worst a Partisan Leaker acting in defense. In the liberal view, Wilson was an Honest Whistleblower, and Libby was a retaliating Partisan Leaker.

Finally, there is presumably a fifth category of anonymous source -- those who are motivated by some utterly personal reason, such as a desire for revenge or notoriaty. These leakers might cloak their concern in some other rationale -- usually they claim to be Honest Whistleblowers -- but their principle motivation lies elsewhere. This group -- let's call them "Venal Cranks" -- are dangerous because they have a particular interest in deceiving both the reporters with whom they deal and themselves. Who, after all, has the courage to admit that they are creating havoc -- and usually betraying their employer and their friends -- for personal glory?

Feel free to propose additional types of anonymous sources in the comments, or propose alternative categories if you think they have more analytical power.

We know that motives are important in assessing the credibility of a source and considering contrary evidence, we know that many anonymous sources have motives that are distinctly self-interested (especially Partisan Leakers, Disloyal Leakers, and Venal Cranks), and we know that journalists agree that motives are so critical that their own codes of ethics require that they "question" those motives before agreeing to confidentiality. However, having inquired in to the motives of an anonymous source and undoubtedly reflected on the veracity of the answer, most of the time journalists do not tell their readers what those motives might be. Does it not follow that journalists who rely on anonymous sources should tell their readers both the stated motives of the anonymous source and whether they believe that those motives are credible? Wouldn't it be far easier for readers to put anonymous leaks into context if journalists commented on the motives of their anonymous sources? Of course it would, and it would greatly enhance the credibility of the reporting journalists, too, because they would avoid the impression that they are willing participants in the source's political, bureaucratic or personal game.

Accordingly, journalists should revise their "code of ethics" to read:
Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Report the stated answer to that question in the same story that cites the source, and include an assessment of the credibility of the source's explanation, including possible alternative explanations.

Readers are entitled to know whether journalists believe that their sources are Sanctioned Sources, Honest Whistleblowers, Partisan Leakers, Disloyal Leakers, or Venal Cranks. Without necessarily using those terms (although we at TigerHawk would of course love for our taxonomy to achieve global use), any story that relies on an anonymous source should include such an assessment. If it doesn't, the journalist is participating in the story, rather than reporting it in a way that gives his or her readers the tools necessary to evaluate it.

Now, hard-core MSM-bashers will say that journalists will not be candid with their readers and sometimes even with themselves over the motives of their own sources. Also, the sources will work hard to deceive the journalists to whom they leak. But, over time, the truth will out -- careful readers and sharp-eyed bloggers will learn which reporters are evidently gullible (or worse, participants in the deception) and which are openly skeptical. And competing journalists will quickly learn to expose the gullibility of their colleagues.

More importantly, a widely acknowledged professional obligation to assess the motives of anonymous sources would force journalists to think about whether they are participants or genuine reporters. This seems especially important in Washington, where one gets the sense that reporters and editors often become enamored of their own influence. It must be enormously fun to have powerful people suck up to you (heck, I know it is). You can't obliterate the natural human desire to be the suckee, but you can certainly promote professional norms that remind reporters that their motivation is not supposed to be power.

Reporting that influences national security

Journalists can have a huge impact on national security, both in general and specifically. In general, during the waging of a limited war (such as the war in Iraq) or a shadow war (such as the war on al Qaeda and its ideological allies), dissent can help the enemy achieve its victory conditions. When journalists amplify that dissent, they further help the enemy. That fact, which is undeniable, does not mean that journalists ought not report on anti-war dissent. But when they do so, they need to remember that they are helping people who -- more often than not -- would deny them the freedom of the press that they take for granted. Reporting of anti-war dissent should be proportionate to reporting in support of the war effort.

In addition, specific stories can do great harm to national security. President Bush has explicitly argued that the leaking of NSA's surveillance program has damaged our security. Since it clearly conveyed new information to our enemies, the leak certainly helped them at our expense. The only question is whether the revelation was worth the damage that it did. People who worry about NSA computers parsing their cell phone conversations probably think that it was, and people who worry about al Qaeda blowing up Baltimore probably think that it was not. It is simply not credible, however, to argue that the leak did not harm our national security interests at all.

The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics does include an extensive consideration of "harm," and it admonishes journalists to "minimize" it. The stated concerns tell us an enormous amount about the attitude of academic journalists:
Journalists should:

Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.

Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.

Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort.

Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.

Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.

Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.

Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.

Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.

Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.

Not a single goddamned word about minimizing harm to national security. In writing a code of ethics that was only adopted "after months of study and debate among the Society's members," journalists concerned themselves only with harming individuals directly. Whether it crossed their mind to consider the implications of their work for national security, there was obviously so little support for the idea that it did not even earn a soft mention in the SPJ's Code of Ethics. This is an appalling omission, if you think about it, and sits at the heart of the problem: their own code of ethics does not even admit that national security is a value worth preserving, even while it requires that journalists stand up for "the diversity and magnitude of the human experience," "the voiceless," "children and inexperienced sources," and "those affected by tragedy or grief."

My proposal:
Journalists should weigh the adverse impact of their reporting on the security of the United States, and take into account requests of those charged with the national defense or homeland security to modify their story or avoid publication to protect national security. If a journalist publishes a story notwithstanding such requests, the journalist should explain his or her rationale in detail in the body of the story.

Journalists will object strongly to this proposal, because it challenges an idea at the heart of their professional self-image: that in their professional life they owe no duty of loyalty to the country of their citizenship. This idea is deeply objectionable to most Americans, and leads me to the third proposed reform....

Journalists are citizens, too

Journalists think that they help their credibility by denying their national loyalty. Quite the contrary. The professed "internationalism" of most reporters is deeply alienating to most people, except maybe Europeans and U.N. employees. It also offends the "Jessep principle," which has contempt for "a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it." This is just what journalists do, all day long.

Journalists need to be free to make judgments consistent with their moral obligation of loyalty as citizens. If a story needs to be buried in the interests of national security, it should be buried unless the public interest in favor of its publication is compelling. Journalists need to retain the final judgment in this balancing test, but they also need to feel professional ethical pressure to recognize that they have a countervailing obligation as citizens.

Similarly, readers are entitled to know where the national loyalty of a journalist resides. In reporting stories about foreign affairs, reporters and their editors should reveal their own citizenship. This disclosure need not appear in the body of the story, but it should be readily available to anybody who is interested. If a reporter for the Associated Press writes a critical story about the United States, it makes a difference whether that reporter is American, Canadian, Russian or Egyptian. Media organizations should not hide behind the myth that these loyalties do not matter, just as they should not ignore obligations of citizenship.

Accordingly, my proposal:
Journalists are citizens, too. Other provisions of this code of ethics notwithstanding, journalists need not publish facts or write stories that harm the national security of their country of citizenship. Recognizing that citizenship is an interest that might create conflicts for journalists, reporters and editors who write on matters of foreign affairs should disclose their citizenship.

The ethics of unsigned editorials

Cassandra was particularly devestating in her examination of the unsigned editorials of the New York Times, revealing serial flip-flops over whether disclosing covert agents is a big problem, or not. My first reaction, frankly, was to think that Cassandra was being a little unfair, holding today's editorial board accountable for the opinions of different people 23 years ago. But then I decided that it is in the nature of unsigned editorials that they speak for the corporeal newspaper, not any one individual. Unsigned editorials are institutional opinions, and there is no reason to assume that an institution changes its opinions with maturation the way an individual might. Indeed, if the subject is Sam Alito's ancient opinions about abortion, the Times allows no room for maturation, changed circumstances, or personal growth.

Now, I am not suggesting that a newspaper should never change its mind in its unsigned editorials. Of course it should. How otherwise to amend the stupidity of one era with the wisdom of another, or vice versa? But a newspaper should have the courage to admit that that is what it is doing. Indeed, if it did admit that it was changing its position and explained its reasons for doing so, it would enhance the credibility of its new position. The only reason not to do so (which one suspects of the New York Times) is that it is trying to confer a partisan advantage. If that is the case, it should also admit that.

Does journalism need codified ethics for unsigned editorials? Well, since the only purpose of the journalism ethics code is to improve the credibility of professional journalism (which, as I said, seeks a special status under law and at important cocktail parties), I think we do need a rule that relates to unsigned editorials. My proposal:
When, in unsigned editorials, a newspaper reverses a position that it has taken in the past, it should acknowledge the reversal with specific reference to the earlier editorial and articulate the reasons for the reversal, or state that it declines to articulate those reasons.

As always, I am very interested in your comments.

UPDATE: There are already interesting comments, including a very useful contribution from Wretchard. And, although not precisely an ethical question, do not miss John Henke's observation that the mainstream media has uniformly ignored the story of Cory Maye. How is it that not one reporter anywhere thinks that this story is important enough to pursue (and if you happen to be a reporter and by some miracle have read this far, go here and keep scrolling)?

UPDATE: Marc Danziger refers me to this post at Winds of Change, which describes how CBS London correspondant Edward R. Murrow helped write a speech for then General Dwight Eisenhower delivered in Frankfurt in October 1945 (i.e., the early days of the Allied occupation). Danziger asks:
Can you imagine Dan Rather helping John Snow write a policy speech given from Baghdad? Can you understand how the notion that he was an American first, and a journalist later might have figured in Murrow's makeup?

When did journalists decide that their citizenship did not matter?


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jan 02, 05:15:00 PM:

The MSM in general and The NYT in particular are mid-event in a graveyard spiral. They've sold their souls, over and over and over, their credibility is gone. Soon, their business will re-invent itself and the dinosaurs of yesterday will be no more.

Here is a great look at The NYT of later this week:


By Blogger wretchardthecat, at Mon Jan 02, 05:18:00 PM:

In some ways these proposals remind me of merge replication, where you are trying insert new records in a table at the same time others may have modified it, having regard to a data sources reliability and integrity. The example of flagging an editorial when it does a policy 180 degree turn is a case in point. What is attempted here is to keep the knowledge base coherent, to ensure that it is not corrupted or infest with unrecognized internal contradictions. If these must be endured, then the idea is, flag it. One of the key problems of course, is the structure of the knowledge itself. It's freeform text and as such, it's hard to tell, even from the point of view of a newspaper itself, just what it's saying in a compressed way. Guarding such an amorphous store from contradiction is hard.

Maybe there's a better chance of maintaining data integrity, at least as to source, by making reporters go through the sensible checklist that Tigerhawk provides. My only suggestion is that a way be found to ensure collateral confirmation. Many stories are actually single point sourced at the start of their lives. Example: Italian hostage kidnapped in Gaza. The hope is that with the passage of hours and the descent of more journalists the initial story can be confirmed. But when a story doesn't last long enough to be additionally confirmed, it simply flashes past and enters the record, sits there forever in the archives, an event resting on the slenderest of supports. Sometimes, in taking a backfix, we belatedly realize that an old story probably wasn't true since it has been contradicted or at least made implausible by subsequent developments. One example that comes to mind were some of the New Orleans disaster stories. But there's no way to go back and revise the archival story, and it would be Orwellian to try. But if we were to think of a state of knowledge as consisting of the present estimate of the true narrative of an event, it would not be wrong to discount a past error. Historians do this all the time. They don't revise the source but they discount some of it, like the story, widely believed then, that the IJN battleship Kongo was sunk in 1942. If you were writing history today, you would not claim this.
Well, my two cents anyhow.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jan 02, 05:49:00 PM:

...the press has gone ahead and published stories that palpably undermine our security in time of national peril over the specific request of the President of the United States. Yes, it is their lawful right to do so, but it is, frankly, disgusting that they have exercised that right.

You aren't the first to say it, and I'm beginning to wonder where this "right" comes from. I know that the "Pentagon Papers" case established a precedent that the media may publish, without government reprisal, classified information. The First Amendment recognizes the right to freedom of the press, inter alia. Where is the press given the right to "give aid and comfort to the enemy," if that's what the NYT has done? Correct me if I'm wrong, but purity of heart and nobility of intent do not, and never have, constituted a defense against a charge of treason.

So my take is: the NYT has a right to publish any information it obtains; the staff of the NYT also have the right to a trial by jury to defend themselves against a charge of treason.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jan 02, 06:06:00 PM:

First, journalism is not a profession. It is a craft. Second, a journalist earns credentials fresh each day. Third, H.L. Mencken, one of the most thoughtful journalists and linguistic experts of his day thought that "honor" was the word that best described how a journalist should act. Fourth, if a journalist decided it was honorable to break the law, it was with the understanding that one was prepared to face the legal consequences of doing so. Fifth, if being honorable is central to being a journalist, an ethics code is an inadequate shallow, static, set of rules that gives one an excuse not to think. The sole guidance I give new reporters and editors is to write so that tomorrow you can look back on what you did today and feel proud.

As for signing editorials, that presumes they are not edited by everyone available to do so. Furthermore, the worlds of politics and the press need to ratchet back on "gotcha" to accept the possibility of changing one's mind on the basis of learning from others. You know, grow up.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jan 02, 06:56:00 PM:

Your idea of establishing a code of ethics for journalists presumes that journalists have at least some minimum interest in acting ethically. I have yet to see any evidence of that. Those who are devoid of ethics will not suddenly reform just because of the introduction of a formal system.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jan 02, 07:07:00 PM:

sbw said: "The sole guidance I give new reporters and editors is to write so that tomorrow you can look back on what you did today and feel proud."

Take a "hypothetical", a communist reporter whitewashes the abuses going on in a worker's paradise. He will undoubtably be proud of the whitewashing until the day he dies.

sbw gives very pathetic advice, perhaps this is why reforms that Tigerhawk proposes are needed.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jan 02, 07:10:00 PM:

Journalist, n.:
1-One who uses teh First Amendment to attack and weaken the nation that the Constitution was written for.

2- A professional, paid liar

3- A political operative, specialising in coverups when his party is in office and treason when the opposition party is in office.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jan 02, 07:52:00 PM:

right2wife: sbw gives very pathetic advice, perhaps this is why reforms that Tigerhawk proposes are needed.

Heh. Find yourself a copy of Gentleman in Trollope: Individuality and Moral Conduct by Shirley Letwin to begin to appreciate that honing a dynamic process of decision-making outstrips the value of static rules.  

By Blogger pst314, at Mon Jan 02, 07:57:00 PM:

"Will the Economy Recover"

I'd like to see somebody publish the last 10 years' tax returns for all these doom-and-gloom journalists. I'll betcha that all the while they were writing sky-is-falling articles, they were investing as if they didn't believe a word of what they were writing.  

By Blogger pst314, at Mon Jan 02, 08:07:00 PM:

"Just as the fortunes in Chinese cookies are more interesting when you mentally append 'in bed' to the fortune, so...journalists..."

Edward R. Murrow : "Good night and good luck...in bed."

Walter Cronkit: "And that's the way it was...in bed."

Dan Rather: "Courage!...in bed."

Dan Rather: "I'm fake but accurate...in bed."

Andy Rooney: "Don't you just hate it when [fill in the blank]...in bed."

Chet Huntley & David Brinkley: "Good night, Chet. Good night, David."  

By Blogger Harrywr2, at Mon Jan 02, 08:23:00 PM:


"Will the economy recover"

If one is a journalist the answer is a resounding NO.

Kids don't read the Newspaper anymore to see what movie is playing, they check the net.

An increasing number of automobile buyers research their potential new car purchase on the net.

If I want to know what is on Sale at the supermarket, I go to the supermarkets websites. Many retailers are MORE than happy to e-mail me with their weekly specials.

I'm pretty sure that represents 2/3rds of a Newspapers advertising revenue...going...going...gone....forever.

Newspapers are going the way of the Travel Agent.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Mon Jan 02, 08:44:00 PM:

A few days ago (before her big sex post)????

You are *so* dead.

I hope you got a good head start. Only the fact that I was busy cooking veal piccata for my soon-to-be in-laws saved you from certain death... :)  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Mon Jan 02, 09:04:00 PM:

Now, I am not suggesting that a newspaper should never change its mind in its unsigned editorials...But a newspaper should have the courage to admit that that is what it is doing. Indeed, if it did admit that it was changing its position and explained its reasons for doing so, it would enhance the credibility of its new position. The only reason not to do so (which one suspects of the New York Times) is that it is trying to confer a partisan advantage. If that is the case, it should also admit that.

This is precisely the point I was trying to make.

The Times has been up on its high horse about journalistic ethics and how it was 'making a stand'. Well, if this is a matter of ethics and principle, these are not matters which blow in the wind. They should not be matters about which one changes one's mind lightly, and if one does, this should be something that is remarkable (and announced to the world). There should be a darned good reason for the change, unless principles no longer mean anything.

Or, unless the principle is subordinated to something else, like scoring political points.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jan 02, 10:52:00 PM:

Couldn't we just shoot them when we catch them lying? Or, isn't there that much ammo?  

By Blogger Melissa Clouthier, at Mon Jan 02, 11:40:00 PM:

A code of ethics would be a huge waste of time and dangerous for consumers who might actually believe the code means something. Better to distrust until proven trustworthy.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jan 03, 12:08:00 AM:

Code of ethics? This simply doesn't go far enough. Look at what the journalists and politicians have helped to foist upon businesspersons: Sarbanes Oxley.

Granted, Worldcom, Global Crossing, Enron and their ilk deserve prosecution under plenty of the existing laws. But the hype from journalists helped prod the political class into dumping a whole regulatory expense that has some serious issues.

So isn't turnabout fair play? As a senior auditor in my company, I'm held to a higher legal standard than the common man. If I pulled off a financial scheme, I could not plead ignorance of the law.

Let's see reporters and editors held to this same higher standard. Expose secrets? Use ficticious "unnamed sources"? Hard time. If Bernie Ebbers will waste away his years in prison, so should the editorial and journalistic staffs of the NYTimes, WAPost and LATimes.

Course, it'd take some politicians with balls and the last I looked, both sides were all too busy taking money from Indian casinos and writing nice quid pro quo letters...  

By Blogger Tom Grey, at Tue Jan 03, 05:08:00 AM:

There is a Moral Hazard to a Balanced Free Press , because it does NOT minimize the number of Americans killed.

I still support a balanced press. What minimizes the number of Americans killed is Public Relations/ propaganda pro-war.
What maximizes the number of Americans killed is PR against the war/ in favor of the terrorist victory.

In a war, one side will win. The NYT wants Bush to lose -- they want the terrorists to win, but deny that is the choice.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Tue Jan 03, 10:34:00 AM:

TH - first of all, har har. Journalism ain't a profession god knows and there won't be a "code". Most of them are just plain mediocre and worse intellects grinding their way. Some of them are ideologically motivated, some a financially motivated. God knows what else. Most are clowns.

How many journalists are really remembered throughout history? I daresay very few: Mencken, Lippman, Murrow. Most are forgotten. But most wrote crap -- it used to be called yellow journalism, now it's really more red than yellow.

I worry more about the people writing the textbooks than the papers. People have been trained not to believe what they read or hear. People like us, who are really closet historians as well as America-lovers, get wrapped up in the reading of the paper and all pissed about the inaccuracies and biases, etc.

It's all just the E channel...complete candy, not protein.

Your prescription would be great for lawyers and doctors acting as journalists. But these are literally untrained intellectual clowns. What will we train them in? What is their professional coursework?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jan 03, 03:30:00 PM:

I hate newspapermen. They come into camp and pick up their camp rumors and print them as facts. I regard them as spies, which, in truth, they are.

I think I understand what military fame is; to be killed on the field of battle and have your name misspelled in the newspapers.

If I had my choice I would kill every reporter in the world, but I am sure we would be getting reports from Hell before breakfast.

-William Tecumseh Sherman

Uncle Billy knew a thing or two about the "press" during wartime. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Sic transit gloria mundi.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jan 03, 09:51:00 PM:

> When did journalists decide that their citizenship did not matter?

Visit Concentric Circles for a more useful characterization of the relationship between individuals, journalists, and society.

"What characteristics do individuals, journalists and society share?
- They plan for the future
- They work to understand their world
- They know they have made mistakes
- They work to understand those mistakes
- They value community as an aid to do that
- They continuously work to do better
- They work to bring others along, and
- They defend themselves against those who prefer the law of the jungle."  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Jan 03, 10:24:00 PM:

sbw, I don't want to be harsh, but that's just a bunch o' platitudes.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jan 04, 09:45:00 AM:

more on newspapers . . .


January 2006

Are Newspapers Doomed?

Joseph Epstein  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jan 04, 01:28:00 PM:

Tigerhawk: sbw, I don't want to be harsh, but that's just a bunch o' platitudes.

Tigerhawk, I don't mind you thinking that. Platitudes are statements in which you do not yet find value. Go ahead and work the alternatives to their dead ends, then come back. I can't convey to you overnight 30 years of experience in journalism and the same amount of time studying ethics as a hobby.

I'm happy to work at finding sensible agreement, but I need something more specific than your comment. And I'd be happy to work by essay, by comment, or privately by email. It always helps to hone ideas with input from others. After all, good ideas don't have to be mine.  

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