Bleeding the Black Ink

One bad apple

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Journalism in general and The New York Times in particular was dealt a black eye recently by Times' reporter Jayson Blair, who, according to The Times, "committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud while covering significant news events in recent months."

The reporter recently resigned but the damage he caused could last for months or even years.

Some of the "journalism fraud" Blair committed included lifting text from other publications and using it without attribution -- otherwise known as plagiarism.

He also fabricated of quotes that he attributed to people he never even interviewed.

He used datelines when he never actually was at the locations indicated by the dateline.

And he did all this on some of the most sensitive stories, including the sniper attacks in Washington, D.C., and the families of those who had lost loved ones in combat in Iraq, according to the Times.

"The widespread fabrication and plagiarism represent a profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper," The Times reported.

Some of his transgressions were incredible. According to reports, he would call in stories from The New York Times building itself while claiming to be at a scene elsewhere.

He wrote narrative scenes based on photos and used anonymous sources liberally.

Basically, he broke every sacred tenant of journalism that is held dearly by any honorable reporter.

Because Blair is black, the issue has been muddled over race and affirmative action and the impact this might have on diversity throughout the nation's newsrooms.

But the bottom line is that Blair flagrantly betrayed the newspaper he worked for and, even more egregiously, betrayed those who read his work and had every reason to believe he was reporting the truth.

Tragically, he is not the first, nor will he be the last reporter who will do damage to the public trust.

"I could give them names, even occupations, but I couldn't give them what they needed most -- a heartbeat. As anyone who's ever touched a newspaper knows, that's one of the cardinal sins of journalism: Thou shall not fabricate. No exceptions. No excuses."

This quote came from Patricia Smith, a Boston Globe columnist who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and who also admitted to making things up to build up her work.

And there have been others.

But just like other industries and professions that have been blemished by corruption, it should not reflect on everyone associated with those industries and professions.

Having served on a number of different newspapers and having known a variety of journalists throughout New Mexico and Colorado, I am convinced that 99.9 percent of people involved in news are individuals of high character and integrity who want to serve their community to the best of their abilities.

These individuals know the power of newspapers and respect that power. They know the duty and obligation it takes to provide information to the people they serve who can use that information. They know the respect due to those who take the time to read their work and they pay those dues. They know that beyond accolades and awards, credibility and trust are the highest honors that can be bestowed upon them.

The Craig Daily Press wants its readers to know how serious its reporters take these values and obligations.

When journalists lose sight of those core values of trust and integrity, they need to do their newspapers a favor -- no, they need to do their readers a favor -- and get out of the business.

"Bleeding the Black Ink" is a weekly column that aims at getting readers better acquainted with the Craig Daily Press, the First Amendment and the newspaper industry. Do you have a question or an issue for an upcoming column? Call Terrance Vestal at 824-7031 or email him at tvestal@craigdailypress.com.

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