Monday, June 07, 2004

In response to my previous post about "Shattered Glass" (see below), my friend Susan, who until recently worked as a reporter in the U.S., sent me the following email, to which I say "hear hear!" (She gave me permission to post it).

So, here's Susan:

"I have very little sympathy for Stephen Glass.

For most journalists, even when we're exhausted, and running on deadline, and the story is falling flat, the thing that keeps us from fabricating details is a commitment to getting the facts right to the best of our ability. Sometimes this is very hard, and sometimes it is very dull, but that is the job. My impression of Stephen Glass is that he had no regard for the truth, and the importance of telling the truth.

It is my firm belief that newspaper and magazine articles should be written well, with vivid detail, in narrative form when appropriate. However, if style comes at the expense of truthful content, then it is a mere sham. Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair are very good writers, but journalism is not just about good writing.

A couple of years ago, a colleague of mine covered a gathering of family members of passengers from Flight 93 in which they had the opportunity to hear the audio recorded on the plane before it crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11. The reporter was not allowed to hear the recording, and was not even allowed into the room where it was played. So, he thoroughly interviewed those who had heard it, and the following day he went back to the hotel conference room, and asked a hotel worker how the room had been arranged, going so far to ask what color the tablecloths had been -- they were yellow. From these details, he wrote a very vivid account of what had transpired.

That's what journalism is about -- finding out the color of the tablecloths, the name of the policeman's dog. It's asking John Smith how he spells his name, in case it turns out to be Jon Smythe. We all have our tired and lazy days, we all make mistakes, and we all have our temptations to liven up a quote, but most of us don't entirely disregard the truth. It makes me angry when people like Stephen Glass rise to the top of their profession by
spinning tales (even if they are eventually caught) when so many of us who work hard to get the facts right have to struggle for the opportunity to work in journalism."

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