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Monday, May 26, 2008

The way I've always dreamed it could be

Reader-submitted complaint: I won't go so far as to laugh at journalistic ethics, but you're sounding utopian. Do journalists mystically get less bounded by their own expectations and valuance of information than the rest of us?

No, but they should be. I hold them to a higher standard than the rest of you, and they often let me down. I expect them to follow basic journalistic ethics, but they don't always meet my standards.

About a week ago, a reporter told me that I am mean to people in her industry. I thought that was funny, because many of my readers have worked or now work as journalists. Most of my closest friends are former reporters, and I respect the role of the media more than most people do. Sadly, that respect means that when they let me down, they deserve additional scorn. We need to root out the evildoers, chase them from this land, and destroy those who would give them comfort.

Uh, sorry for getting all Cheney on you for a moment there.

Our system is not perfect. There are no formal standards: anyone can start a newspaper or radio station and take on the responsibility of providing information to the public. The industry is governed by voluntary standards that are generally accepted but by no means required. Nobody is going to pull your local science reporter's license if he starts to believe the Flat Earth Society's propaganda. The public has only two ways to insist on better reporting:

  1. Refusing to buy subscriptions or advertising.
  2. Public shaming.
Traditionally, members of the media have collectively called out the worst offenders in their midst. Media critics, ombudsmen and senior journalists are responsible for informally policing their industry. Sadly, this is not common in Canada. This may be why my columns provoke such a reaction from some working journalists: they know I'm right, but they can't believe I'm saying it.

So far, no journalist has ever told me that my columns about journalism are incorrect. However, I'm open to the possibility that they simply did not want to challenge me at the time, so I will throw this out there: If you believe I am incorrect on any matter related to journalism, please let me know. I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts. You can use the comments box or send me an e-mail privately. My e-mail address is linked on my profile page.

Thanks for your complaint.