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The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

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Journalism needs industry reform

Newspapers habitually engage in several practices that can lead to accuracy problems.

The public trusts its journalists about as much as it trusts its politicians, which is to say it doesn’t trust us very much at all. In the aftermath of USA Today’s Jack Kelly and The New York Times’ Jayson Blair scandals, such a credibility deficit is more than a little problematic.

It’s awful.

Perhaps the most disturbing facet of this problem is that two of the nation’s top five daily newspapers have been caught employing liars. And smaller but similar problems have turned up around the country.

In other words, these aren’t isolated incidents; Kelly and Blair are heralds of a broader, more disturbing trend.

The newspaper industry habitually engages in several practices that can and do lead to exactly the problems exhibited at USA Today and The New York Times.

First, newspapers often promote excellent reporters to editor positions. Sometimes, these reporters turn into good managers, but the flipside is also true.

Second, the journalism industry as a whole pays pitiful wages to people expected to achieve perfect accuracy. When combined with constant deadlines and the pressure to produce – especially given competition with instant coverage on television and the Internet – it’s not surprising many journalists opt for shortcuts. The industry isn’t paying for better.

Third, and perhaps most disturbing, journalists are uncomfortable with being held accountable. Journalists’ typical cries for transparency in government often fall silent when the lens turns back on newspapers. Few newspapers in the country have ombudsmen; even The New York Times added one only after the Blair scandal.

The industry has its share of problems, and the latest rash of Kellys and Blairs cannot be understood outside the context of these other factors.

Industry leaders need to collectively endorse a new set of standards for journalists. Current ethical codes clearly fail to prevent today’s problems, and thus do not go far enough. Without some tough talk and strong leadership, these problems won’t disappear.

The industry desperately needs profound structural reform in the areas of management, wages and accountability.

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