Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why Journalists Can't Admit Wrongdoing

In Jack Shafer's latest column, he ponders why journalists can't take the flak for their own errors. He deliberates on finding a story's "essence," using the most recent example of the Duke rape story that so many papers fanatically jumped on.

I think I've got your answer, Jack - because admitting wrongdoing, while honorable, undermines authority in the eyes of the public.

I'm the first person to say that a retraction or clarification should be printed, and I generally support editor's letters on the pages. It's a form of transparency that helps break through the secretive, shuttered walls of the newsroom. It's a huge fight to prove that journalists aren't a separate sect and, while educated, are still connected to the average guy.

But saying you screwed up in journalism isn't a mark of honesty in the press. It's a death sentence, and it's no wonder papers don't admit it and press on to more news - lest they become news.

If the public were more accepting of error, corrections would have their own page. But the fear of error in reporting - worse, a Jayson Blair-type calamity - keeps the newsroom on edge and keeps them neurotically tuned to facts. If corrections became a crutch, the profession would shortly drown in its own relaxation.

Who would read a paper if you can't, as one reader put it in the latest edition of the NYT's Talk to the Newsroom, read it "as gospel"?

These days, people just don't have time for anything less than cut and dry.

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