Last week we had an opportunity for Don Meyers, a reporter at the Salt Lake Tribune, to come to our class to discuss “The Mind of the Journalist.” He started out with the usual blab, the whole giving voice to the voiceless and persistence in tracking down the truth rant, but then he said something that I have always hoped to hear, but was surprised nonetheless when the words came.
According to Meyers, “Journalists are storytellers at heart, plus historians with a sense of justice.”
Thank you, Mr. Meyers, for agreeing with me. But after reading David Carr’s Media Equation column this Monday (see http://tinyurl.com/2fo58zh), I had to wonder if it wouldn’t be healthy for journalists to add a belief in ethics to their sense of justice.
Carr’s column discussed a situation in which a blogger decided to publish a scandalous account without the consent of the source, who had insisted she did not want to go public. At first the mainstream media ignored the story, but as it gained momentum, they too decided run their version, again without the permission of the original source.
I worry that in our insatiable appetite for a good story, we are forgetting that all we publish becomes public. It’s really an easy thing to do, once one has become accustomed to seeing their name in print. You forget you have an audience of thousands, and you forget the power that comes with that.
The subject of that scandal will never have the same public image, no matter what may come of the incident. That cannot be repaired—not even the journalist who first released the information can take it back. Perhaps we would do well to step back when offered a great story, to take a moment to remember that with great power comes great responsibility. Where much is given, much is required.