This issue of Quill is about the best and worst of journalism.
You can probably guess what I mean when I say the worst. We’ve all heard plenty about Jayson Blair and The New York Times in recent weeks. And before that, it was the Salt Lake Tribune under the microscope when two reporters sold information to the National Enquirer. In the weeks since the very public Blair scandal, accusations of plagiarism have cropped up across the country.
On Page 8, we examine the newsroom impacts of these ethical lapses. Many of the recent scandals have been triggered by a single reporter acting unethically, but the reporter’s actions have had dramatic repercussions for entire news organizations. One danger in the aftermath of such incidents is that reporters may begin to lose some of their autonomy; editors may trust reporters less and spend more time peering over reporters’ shoulders, questioning every decision.
Fortunately, most editors seem to have avoided this knee-jerk reaction. But newsrooms are certainly making adjustments in the wake of these high-profile scandals: From educating reporters about newsroom standards to distributing “accuracy letters,” newsroom managers are taking steps to avoid falling into the same position where The New York Times found itself.
But with all this focus on the worst of journalism, it’s more important than ever that we honor the great work that goes on every day in our profession. In this issue, we showcase the work that won the 2002 Sigma Delta Chi Awards. Each year, SPJ recognizes the best examples of quality journalism from the previous year, and this year’s winners carry on the tradition of exceptional journalism. That coverage begins on Page 13.
One thing that hit me about this year’s group of winners is that their coverage represents such a wide range of topics. Many of them have a local focus, which illustrates the dramatic impact a news organization can have on its own community.
The work of this year’s winners is truly inspirational, and they serve as a reminder that journalism scandals are not representative of what we do. Good journalism is the best defense against our critics, and it’s important that our readers, viewers and listeners are reminded not just of our worst work, but of our best.
Jeff Mohl is the editor of Quill.