Notes From The Mail Bag

Notes From The Mail Bag

A recent column on this page called "Help Keep the Free Press Free" (July) resonated with a large number of readers who offered their own takes on the subject. That column dealt with a campaign by The Society of Professional Journalists to encourage administrators to support student journalists and a free press.

Journalist and editor Christine Ford responded with a cautionary tale. "I hope the SPJ does well with its campaign. I can tell you it's an uphill battle all the way for journalists of any kind in the publishing world now," she wrote. "The truth is, even if SPJ succeeds the students are going to get a cold smack of reality right in the face when they hit the real world. Journalism is considered entertainment by more and more corporate types, and ethics gets in the way of getting the ads, especially when your competition caves. But thank you for bringing it to administrators' attention."

There must be renewed emphasis
on ethics in journalism, starting
with schools of journalism.

A reader who asked that he not be named pointed out that press freedom can sometimes be a double-edged sword. He wrote: "I am particularly fond of student reporters and give them an interview whenever asked. I agree that in-depth research, the pursuit of truth, and asking probing and tough questions are vitally important. What you didn't mention is the apparent increasing frequency of shallow research, dishonest reporting, disdain for the truth, and asking select questions, or writing select responses. I have become very cautious about giving interviews related to some issues, especially when I detect that the reporter has an agenda. It seems that more often a reporter's story is found to be groundless, or even punitive. In order to achieve what you are hoping there must also be a renewed emphasis on ethics in journalism, starting with schools of journalism. Too many seem to want to be the next Woodward and Bernstein-career and fame above truth and enlightenment."

For Mac Cheever at Rock Valley College (Ill.), the column spoke to the deeper issue of censorship. Discussing the actions of a Governors State University (Ill.) administrator who seized a student newspaper that had printed unflattering articles, he quoted Albert Einstein who said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Expanding on that idea, Cheever wrote, "We have untold examples of the utter failure of censorship, whatever the form. Banning something does not make it go away. We banned alcohol for a while and created one of the most successful illegal businesses in history. Not to be outdone, we extended that concept into recent decades with a similar ban on drugs. Just imagine the idea of banning Huckleberry Finn! Any restrictive activity is tolerable until it affects you. The beauty of any information is that you can always learn more. If you don't want to read or watch TV or research online, there are easy methods of individual prevention without extending that restriction to the rest of the world. Where would we be without the radicals? Of course, it's the winners that write history. That's why our version of the British traitors who cranked out those silly papers called 'The Declaration of Independence' or 'The Constitution of the United States of America' is slightly slanted. It's just a matter of perspective, isn't it?"

It is indeed, and we welcome your perspective on everything we write.

Write to Tim Goral at tgoral@universitybusiness.com.


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