The New York Times’revelation that one of its former reporters committed journalistic fraud is”a wake-up call”for the profession, says the dean of West Virginia University’s Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism.
“It’s devastating,”Christine Martin said of the Times’internal investigation that found reporter Jayson Blair had stolen material from other newspapers, made up quotes and lied about his whereabouts.”Credibility is the currency in which all newspapers trade.”
She added,”When credibility is questioned, newspapers lose their power to seek and report the truth to an informed electorate. I think the Jayson Blair case is an important wake-up call for everyone in journalism. We have to always remember that our first duty is to report and tell the truthdespite tight deadlines and overwhelming demands to’be there’and’be there first.’”
The Times acknowledged Blair’s ethical lapse in a 7,500-word story accompanied by an editor’s note apologizing to readers in its Sunday (May 11) editions. The paper’s review found problems in at least 36 of 73 stories Blair had written between his receiving national reporting assignments in October to his May 1 resignation. The internal investigation continues into more than 600 articles he wrote before October.
Martin said the situation at the Times underscores the need for both journalism educators and professionals to stress accuracy, fairness and ethics over story counts or deadline exclusives when training budding reporters.
At WVU , journalism instructors emphasize these ethical standards beginning in the introductory courses, and follow through in advanced reporting and special classes in ethics and law, she noted. Accuracy is so important that many professors who will give students’papers a zero if they contain factual errors, and plagiarism can result in failing a class or suspension.
“It is exceedingly important for all of us in journalism to continue to stress and teach the importance of accuracy, fairness and integritythe three real virtues of news and journalism,”she said.”That will be the continuing responsibility of those of us in educationto train young journalists that the value of news is directly tied to its credibility and that a journalist’s job is to seek and tell the truth.”
Martin has been dean of the P.I. Reed School of Journalism since 1999 and co-director of the Poynter Institute’s Summer News Reporting and Writing Fellowships for the past six years. She was the 1999 Freedom Forum Journalism Professor of the Year and the 1998 CASE /Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teachers West Virginia Professor of the Year. Before coming to WVU , she was a reporter, education writer and news editor for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Uniontown (Pa.) Herald Standard.
She is available to speak to the media about journalistic ethics. Her phone number is 304-293-3505, ext. 5413.