‘Jimmy’s World’ only worse today

Unchallenged information is the enemy of journalism.

Usually it’s manifested from sources who wish to deceive agents of the media, like politicians. Occasionally, though, journalists are the perpetrator.

This is an even more egregious act than simply passing along unchallenged information from outside sources. People trust the media to protect them from spin and half-truths, not inundate them with lies.

Today, the copy editor is all but gone from the newsroom. This may lead to more journalistic deceit of the public because nobody questions the validity of the story as was once done when newspaper budgets permitted copy editors.

Although, fabrication of stories isn’t a new phenomenon – or one that can be stopped by simply having a copy editor.

Look at Janet Cooke’s “Jimmy’s World” that ran in The Washington Post in 1980. It was a fabrication. In this case, even editors questioned it’s validity, but their calls went unheeded by superior editors who should’ve known better, like Bob Woodward.

We now know that the story was based on information relayed to Cooke by social workers and other bureaucrats. Had Cooke written the story as a trend story or labeled her narrative as based on a composite, the controversy might have been avoided.

But, her story might not have pleased the editors in trend-story format and may have been quashed from publication all together.

Still, Cooke was looking to make a name for herself and though she accomplished this, she also ended her career.

The problem, however, isn’t always a low-level reporter looking to make a name for himself or herself. Sometimes, journalists wish so badly for a certain story to be true, they don’t go through the proper measures of authentication.

And this isn’t only a newspaper problem. Look at the scandal in the television medium that brought down Dan Rather, one of the most respected journalists of his era.

But focusing on newspapers, as the copy editor and various other fact-checking jobs within the newsroom get the ax due to budget cuts, there may be an increase in non-news news slipping into the paper like bogus trend stories and there may, unfortunately, be more fake stories penned by copycats of Jayson Blair.

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One response to “‘Jimmy’s World’ only worse today

  1. Good analysis.

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