When Journalists Become the News
It’s not often that journalists make the headlines, but this year has been an exception. From the reports of embedded reporters being killed while covering the war in Iraq to the Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times, journalists have become the news.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you have at least heard about Jayson Blair, a young, Black New York Times reporter who was found to have plagiarized portions of a San Antonio Express-News article about a soldier missing in Iraq.
When the story first broke, I thought, why would a New York Times reporter need to plagiarize? After all, a few months prior I had attended a writing conference where then-managing editor Gerald Boyd discussed the extensive human resources the newspaper committed to their Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Portraits of Grief” following the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks. As an editor, all I could do was salivate at the fact that this newspaper had the luxury to assign, for example, 20 reporters to a particular series of articles. It appeared to me that if you needed help writing or researching an article at the Times, the resources would be available.
In any case, the Blair saga took on a life of its own. The story got lots of ink and plenty of air time as some commentators blamed affirmative action for letting someone like Blair “slide by” and continue to report — on big news stories no less — when he was earning a reputation as someone who had problems with accuracy. The end result of the Blair debacle, unfortunately, were the resignations in June of Times executive editor Howell Raines and Boyd, who was the first African American to hold the position of managing editor.
As I mentioned earlier, both soldiers and journalists have become casualties of the war in Iraq. Several media outlets such as the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, NBC News, as well as international media organizations, have lost reporters, photographers and producers as many fearless journalists traveled with troops to cover the war. When these correspondents share their own “war stories,” how they dodged bullets or were interrogated by a particular country’s officials, it is evident that this is what gets their adrenaline flowing. Being “safe” is not what it’s all about for them. It’s about getting the story, by any means necessary.
What I’m trying to explain and the reason I use the Blair incident as an example, is that although journalists often rank up there, actually down there, with lawyers when it comes to a lack of credibility and integrity, most journalists are about seeking the truth, and they are very passionate about being protectors of the First Amendment. But like in any field, there are some bad apples.
The industry has much to do to correct itself on several levels, not least of which is making a greater effort to diversify newsrooms. And although the journalism field is not saturated with minority journalists, there are plenty in the field to be proud of.
Dorothy Gilliam, a longtime reporter of the Washington Post is legendary in the field for her commitment to increasing opportunities for minority journalists. She recently retired from the Post after 35 years and will now continue her mission as a fellow at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. And there are others, some of which are featured in this journalism edition. The Washington Post‘s Colbert I. King, a recent recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary; Dr. Karen Brown Dunlap, president of the Poynter Institute; Wanda Lloyd of the Freedom Forum’s Diversity Institute are well- respected by their peers, serve as role models, and they, too, work tirelessly to see that this country’s newsrooms represent the increasing diverse population of this country. When it comes to journalism professionals, they are the rule rather than the exception.
Hilary Hurd Anyaso
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