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Saturday, September 18, 2004

Bill Moyers: Journalism Under Fire

This is an outstanding speech by a veteran journalist. Moyers, who has spent 54 years in the profession, gives a well thought-out perspective on what journalism is, what it ought to be, and how it influences the society. Of journalists he writes,
Our job remains essentially the same: to gather, weigh, organize, analyze and present information people need to know in order to make sense of the world. You will hear it said this is not a professional task—John Carroll of the Los Angeles Times recently reminded us there are “no qualification tests, no boards to censure misconduct, no universally accepted set of standards.” Maybe so. But I think that what makes journalism a profession is the deep ethical imperative of which the public is aware only when we violate it—think Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, Jim Kelly. Ed Wasserman, once an editor himself and now teaching at Washington and Lee University, says that journalism “is an ethical practice because it tells people what matters and helps them determine what they should do about it.” So good newsrooms “are marinated in ethical conversations…What should this lead say? What I should I tell that source?” We practice this craft inside “concentric rings of duty and obligations: Obligations to sources, our colleagues, our bosses, our readers, our profession, and our community”—and we function under a system of values “in which we try to understand and reconcile strong competing claims.” Our obligation is to sift patiently and fairly through untidy realities, measure the claims of affected people, and present honestly the best available approximation of the truth—and this, says Ed Wasserman, is an ethical practice.
The speech is an excellent review of the challenges an honest journalist is bound to face,- government secrecy, ideological rejection, pressure and intimidation by corporate powers. He makes a specific point of saying that this US Administration is, in his opinion, most committed to secrecy of all the ones he has worked with.

This is an excellent speech, a must-read.

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