Panel Discusses, Offers Tips Regarding Journalistic Accountability

Washington (June 5, 2003) — Journalists shaken by five weeks of scandal at The New York Times were reminded Thursday that living up to their own standards is the first line of defense. The panel, examining the fallout from the Jayson Blair misdeeds, and the resignation of the two top Times editors, was co-sponsored by the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Reporting at the Missouri School of Journalism and by Investigative Reporters and Editors. It was held in conjunction with the annual IRE convention in Washington, D.C.

Investigative Reporters and Editors
Investigative Reporters and Editors

Addressing the issues plaguing the journalism craft were longtime New York Times staff Hedrick Smith, The Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler and NPR commentator Daniel Schorr; two deans — Tom Kunkel of the Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, and Dean Mills of the Missouri School of Journalism; and IRE members Mark Rochester, associate managing editor of The Denver Post, and Ford Fessenden, investigative reporter at The New York Times. Hurley chair Geneva Overholser, Missouri School of Journalism, moderated.

The panelists offered nine tips on how journalists can safeguard journalistic accountability:

  • Stories are great; facts are powerful. Be brave, be careful, live up to your own standards.
  • An ombudsman can help to reassure readers of the credibility of the paper.
  • Implement a system of checks and balances, and challenge reporters to uphold the system.
  • Do not underestimate readers. Someone will catch an error or other problem every time. Report fact rather than a biased story for the purpose of entertainment.
  • Focus your passion for journalism and your investigative reporting instincts on your own organization. Enhanced credibility will result.
  • Create a work environment where people can do good and be creative.
  • The Golden Rule works in the workplace as well as elsewhere.
  • Editors and reporters alike must insist on the time required to do good journalism. Find the most effective advocate you know, and make the strongest case possible for time.
  • Journalists often are too isolated and aloof from their communities. Stay in touch with your readers and viewers.

The Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Reporting is one of nine endowed chairs at the Missouri School of Journalism. Overholser, the first person to hold this chair, is a former editor of The Des Moines Register and also has served as an ombudsman of The Washington Post and as a member of the editorial board of The New York Times.

Updated: March 2, 2020

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