A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Letters to the editor: April

By Quill

Future journalists must crosstrain

To the Editor:

I was just writing in to tell you how much I enjoyed reading Mr. Hallman’s piece, Print Journalists: Be prepared to hit airwaves. It was a well-written article, and as a print journalism major at the University of Kentucky, I found it very enlightening. I also agree that in this day and age, all journalists need to be fluent in both broadcast and print. Future print journalists should be able to “master the art of conversation” while speaking clearly and concisely in front of the camera like they are talking to an old friend. While at the same time, future broadcast journalists should become comfortable writing a few of their own stories. This is a competitive industry; the more prepared and acquainted with both aspects of journalism you are, the more successful you will be.

Mari Stansbury

Lexington, KY.

Misplaced emphasis on ’news’ hurts credibility

To the Editor:

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your column in the January/February issue of Quill pointing out the loss of credibility in our profession (Journalism industry must return to principles, by SPJ president David Carlson). As a former daily newspaper editor and now as a teacher of high school journalism, I often rail against the over-zealous pursuit of story at the expense of our basic responsibility to inform the public.

I find it ironic that in our pursuit of readers and viewers, our reliance on sensationalism and entertainment now seems to be the principal cause of losing them. Further, I’m convinced this misplaced emphasis is resulting in an influx of would-be journalists being attracted to the profession for power and prestige, rather than principles and conviction.

I can only hope we’re not fighting the final battle of a lost war.

Jack Harkrider

Austin, Texas

Publishers at heart of ethical issues

To the Editor:

This is in response to David Carlson’s commentary (Journalism industry must return to principles — January/February 2006).

He is correct in that our profession is sinking fast. Yet, instead of addressing journalists about the problem, he should go straight to the top — the publishers.

As a freelancer, I’ve worked for several different publications writing feature articles. One magazine publisher didn’t like my article about popcorn. Not because it wasn’t informative, fun and well-written. It was because I wrote that popcorn soaked in butter, oil, sugar and/or salt wasn’t the healthy snack some might think. Stating the obvious wasn’t something his movie house client wanted to read. After all, his client sold (unhealthy) popcorn and was afraid this article would hamper his sales.

Another example of an unethical newspaper publisher dealt with a seemingly innocuous story about Russian doctors coming to our town to learn about American medicine. Most of this story focused on what the doctors learned and how American medicine differed from that in Russia. One or two paragraphs mentioned an unscrupulous pharmaceutical company wanting the Russian doctors to bring a non-FDA approved HIV medication to Russia. These Russian doctors were supposed to sign a nondisclosure contract to ban them from talking to the press before they gave the medications to their unsuspecting patients.

My editor and I both thought the story would make a great article. I wrote it up, and the publisher quashed it. Even though my sources were highly respected professionals who agreed to be quoted, the publisher was afraid someone might take him to court (and yes, I had written documentation to back up the story).

I have other examples I could share, yet I think my point has been made.

When you write about ethics for journalists, you need not preach to the choir — you need to preach to the unchurched.

Lissa Ann Wohltmann