When the first major story broke on problems with sexual misconduct within the Roman Catholic Church, I told a friend that for the church, things would get a lot worse before they got better.
A reader wrote a letter to the editor in which he stated that the uncovering of sexual abusive behavior among priests would equate to fire for the church – a cleansing agent from which the church would emerge cleaner, stronger and healthier.
When the first of the major corporate scandals hit the media reports, a similar scenario occurred. The fire burned again, and the cleansing began. Many business people tell me that corporate America and the accounting profession will be better for it.
Now we have the Jayson Blair saga and its fallout, including the resignation of Rick Bragg.
One reporter called an SPJ leader to ask if, in light of the resignation of Bragg, the media was undertaking a “witch hunt” within.
As an institution, the media always has been slow, sometimes even unwilling, to hold itself accountable. That costs us readers, viewers and listeners.
I think it’s important that we view the Jayson Blair incident and its fallout as journalism’s “fire” rather than someone simply getting “fired,” or the failure of newsroom diversity, or a shame cast on a bastion of the media. If it’s seen as a cleansing “fire,” then The New York Times can become more productive from dealing with our concerns and those of news consumers.
While discussing the Blair incident, I asked a fellow editor, “Why is it that journalists profess so much skepticism about what anyone else tells us, yet we cringe at putting our reporters under the same microscope?”
In the nearly four years I have been editor at The Business Journal, I have saved every e-mail and letter from a reader where a reporter’s work has been questioned. These have been few. Each resulted in significant due diligence to determine if a problem existed, and if one existed, what it required to fix it.
I never felt like a hunter of witches. I do not think that reporters involved in the examination feel hunted, nor should they.
In 2003 P.B. (“post Blair”), I might be more sensitive to such calls, but the process – perhaps re-examined, more rigorous and better – will remain.
I think that will happen within all quality news operations. It should.
People who have a fire for doing good journalism know that.
Mac McKerral is the editor of The Business Journal Serving Greater Tampa Bay in Tampa, Fla.