More on Jayson Blair
Jill Rosen and AJR are to be commended for the tough article "All About the Retrospect" that retraces Jayson Blair's clue-littered path at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism (June/July). Dean Tom Kunkel and Associate Dean Chris Callahan emphasize how strongly the college insists on ethics in teaching its students. But how ethical was it for the college to showcase Blair as one of its "distinguished alumni" and otherwise assiduously promote him on and off the campus--when he failed to complete his course of study? What were Merrill students to think about the value of earning their degree as they walked past displays celebrating this most famous non-graduate?
An essential point about credibility has been missed in all the reporting and commentary on the New York Times/Jayson Blair/Rick Bragg fiasco. In 40 years as a reporter (the Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel), an essential principle I learned about the news business was that the most difficult hurdle, on both sides, was for a newspaper to come to trust a reporter, and a reporter to earn the trust of his or her editors. Even with experienced reporters, and certainly with tyros, it took months or even years for that relationship to develop to the point where the reporter was trusted with sensitive or complicated stories.
The same apparently is not true of stringers, especially those who work directly for reporters--as appears to be the case with some of the New York Times stringers. What are the standards for determining the accuracy, competency and lack of bias of part-time correspondents? What do they have to do to earn the trust of the newspaper?
In my years at the Milwaukee Journal, we used stringers primarily as tip services, whose information was to be checked out by the reporter as thoroughly as that of any source. We did have a few state desk correspondents who had worked for the paper for many years and were allowed to occasionally get bylines on stories they wrote, usually features. But it was fairly rare.
If the Times--or any other newspaper, for that matter--uses anonymous stringers without subjecting them to the same standards of scrutiny as it does its reporters, the credibility of the entire newspaper is eroded.
Frank A. Aukofer
Washington bureau chief, retired
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Falls Church, Virginia
I liked your piece on the Blair mess. Several points stuck a nerve with me, as I have ADD, am terminally charming and am a TV producer. I'm one of those people, like Jayson Blair, who's able to call up a total stranger, get her life story and quite cheerfully leave her thinking I'm someone who deeply understands and cares about her concerns. If she stops to reflect even a minute, she'll figure out that I'll never talk to her again, unless I need something. This sounds so unattractive, when laid out so baldly. My fellow producers and bookers have a saying: "Stop me, stop me, before I charm again!" It's hard work, but it's fun and it's rewarding in a number of ways.
What I don't understand about Blair is why he bothered to fake it. Once you've got the gift of schmooze, you usually want to employ it as much as possible. My kids are horrified as I "interview" the check-out clerk, the car-wash guy or the crossing guard. I like people, I love to hear their stories, and frankly, I've done this for so long, I don't know if I could NOT ask questions. Wouldn't it have been easier for him to just get on the plane, go to the house and talk to the people? Wild horses can't keep me from the phones when I've got a great story to get.
Thanks for a great piece.
Freelance TV producer
The foes of diversity initiatives have made Jayson Blair the poster child for why such initiatives can't work, and they have called for the head of every person who promoted Blair without properly screening him. Predictably, these same foes, as the record shows, have not formulated such bold conclusions rationalizing why white men should be better screened before taking leadership positions in America's corporations--in light of the recent fraud that has emaciated our 401Ks. I'm sure these foes would simply attribute the nightmare on Wall Street to the time- honored tradition of greed, void of any indictment of white maleness.
Unlike the mayhem and pillage on Wall Street, Blair cost no one their life savings or devalued investments targeted at sending someone's kid to a good college.
Maybe an explanation as to why minority and women CEOs manage to keep their noses clean on Wall Street could bolster the argument that the snail's pace of diversity initiatives in corporate America is perpetuating the downward spiral in our mutual funds.
(42-year-old white male)
Graduate student of journalism
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland