Volume XI, Issue 21 ~ May 22-28, 2003

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Our Say on Scandal in the News Business

A scandal at the top of the journalism food chain is rippling through newspapers across America.

We’re speaking here of disclosures last week in The New York Times that one of the paper’s young star reporters, 27-year-old Jayson Blair, defrauded his paper and his readers by lying in stories.

Blair made up quotes and scenes. He stole materials from other papers. He pretended to write from places he hadn’t visited. The Times laid bare all of his transgressions in a four-page spread that sent chills down the spine of all of us in the news business.

We don’t play in the same league as The New York Times. But the scandal that has shaken perhaps the world’s best newspaper has lessons for everybody in the news business, including us.

The sordid tale also carries a disturbing local angle; Blair is a recent product of the University of Maryland and labored for the Diamondback and for the university-run Capital News Service. (Stories he wrote there also are being examined for problems.)

Newspapers are gleeful to get out the cat o’ nine tails when politicians are sloppy, stupid or unethical. (Sometimes all three at once.)

So it’s only fitting that newspapers, even community papers like ours, examine our own doings when the bright light of scandal shines on our business.

At Bay Weekly, we’ve had only one such problem that we know of. Years ago, when a fellow editor wrote to say that one of our reporter’s stories tracked too closely with one of his reporter’s, we investigated. He was right, and our staffer was dismissed within a week.

You also may notice that from time to time, that we run what we self-flagellatingly call our Department of Corrections, where we admit to mistakes, inadvertent typos or flat-out stupidity.

We may joke about the name we have given our blunder corner, but we take accuracy seriously. The principals at Bay Weekly have worked in journalism and teaching for six combined decades. We know the words we put in print create the record, and we’re dogged both in searching out the facts and in teaching that old trick to new newshounds. Lazy reporting and writing isn’t tolerated.

Newspapers’ deadlines aren’t for the faint of heart. At crunch time, stories still are being crafted. Words and ads throughout the paper are being changed. Deadline is met with brutal efficiency, no whining allowed.

Yes, mistakes get made.

Then it’s our responsibility to correct them and to say we were wrong.

But writing the news is not fiction writing. Whether at The New York Times or Bay Weekly, living up to your trust needs to be the standard for every edition.



© COPYRIGHT 2003 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated May 22, 2003 @ 1:43am