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All we have to lose is our credibility


SJW 2012


by H. L. Hall

As we celebrate Scholastic Journalism Week this month, it is imperative we keep the 45 words that help students cover sensitive, controversial issues in a responsible manner. It’s amazing to me every time I teach a workshop, a seminar, or even a session at a JEA convention, I try to give (normally $20) to the first student who can recite those 45 words. In the last 20 years (not counting the $1 I give advisers at the ASNE Reynolds Institute at Kent State each summer), I have only had to dig in my wallet for a total of $40. I am yet to give away $35 to advisers each year at Kent State, but I have witnessed some clever ways to recite the words.

Is it really difficult to memorize those 45 words? They’re really quite simple. They are: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” I hope those 45 words are posted in large bold letters on every classroom wall.

The First Amendment Center has conducted several surveys over the years concerning the Amendment . Those surveys have revealed that not even half of Americans can name all five parts of the Amendment. That indicates to me that few people really care about the importance of those 45 words.

Even though the Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press, it does not give journalists the right to be irresponsible with those actions.

There are several examples of professional journalists who have lost their credibility because they have made up quotes, made up facts, failed to gather all the facts, manipulated photographs, plagiarized or violated copyright laws.

Student journalists might gain a better understanding of why they need to act responsibly when utilizing their First Amendment rights, if they researched the stories of some professional journalists who were irresponsible.

A good exercise would be to have students write a brief research paper or make a brief oral report about a professional who lost some credibility. Then they could analyze that person’s action and come up with suggestions as to how the journalist and his editors might have prevented the questionable behavior.

Some journalists to consider would be: Jayson Blair, Patricia Smith, Jack Kelly, Armstrong Williams, Howell Raines, Michael Kinney, Rick Bragg, Dan Rather, Bob Ryan, Mary Mapes, Bill O’Reilly, Griego Erwin, Rush Limbaugh, Mitch Albom, Bob Green, Jim Van Vliet, Janet Cooke, Patrick Schneider, Geraldo Rivera, Allan Detrich, Stephen Glass, Don Imus, Brian Walski, Bryan Patrick and Sari Horwitz.

Some of the journalists listed above lost their jobs. Others received suspensions. Others are still working journalists. Whatever the result, they caused their medium to lose some credibility. Once credibility is lost, it’s difficult to get it back. It might be a good idea to create a poster for the classroom which says “All We Have To Lose Is Our Credibility.” If those words are before students every day, they might think about being responsible with everything they do.

   Tomorrow: Second in a series of posts and activities to go along with Scholastic Journalism Week from the JEA Scholastic Press Rights Commission. Tomorrow’s will talk about the TAO of Journalism, what it means and how to sing up your staff to follow it. 


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