Brian Sandford: Former writer is well-known for the wrong reasons
We journalists tend to work for for-profit companies, but we didn’t get into the business to advance a corporate agenda.
I trust my employer, Swift Communications, because I’ve never been told what to write or to direct my staff to lean a certain way. Editorial independence is paramount to any good journalist, and I must say that most of the companies I’ve worked for have offered it.
A recent newsworthy incident in our neighbor to the west brought those thoughts to the fore. I’ll explain more soon, but first, I will list my unholy trinity of the worst offenses a journalist can commit.
3.) We might occasionally have disagreements with readers or sources, but any dissent can never creep into our coverage. That’s bias, and it’s a crime against the readers. I’m confident in — and proud of — our reporters’ objectivity.
2.) Stealing others’ work is the ultimate crime of dishonesty, and I worked with someone a number of years ago who borrowed liberally from someone else’s writings and somehow wasn’t fired. That person claimed ignorance, but you don’t have to have a journalism degree to know how wrong that is. Many of my co-workers then and I were deeply troubled by the situation, and fortunately, that person took a different job not long thereafter and hasn’t worked for a newspaper since.
1.) You’d think there’d be no crime worth than plagiarism, but there is. It’s fabrication. A good newspaper is a mirror of the community it serves, and lies cloud that mirror and leave a mark for a long time.
Why is that top of mind for me right now? Because Stephen Glass, one of our nation’s three most unfortunately famous recent fabricators, just was denied his license to practice law in California. As a “journalist” at The New Republic — a fantastic publication in Washington, D.C. — in the mid- to late 1990s, he fabricated sources in more than 40 stories before he finally was caught. I wish I didn’t know his name, because tens of thousands of legitimate journalists throughout U.S. history deserve the recognition Glass gets.
Two other famed fabricators are, unfortunately, household names for anyone who follows journalism. One is Janet Cooke, who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning piece for The Washington Post that was largely made up. The prize later was revoked as a result. The other is Jayson Blair, who both fabricated and copied work while at The New York Times, then ridiculously earned money telling his shameful story.
I don’t like writing those people’s names, because I don’t like what they did to an institution I care about so much. I’m grateful to have a staff we all can trust and be proud of; I’m extremely proud of our genuine journalists here.
Editor Brian Sandford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.