On Friday I had perhaps the most stressful day in my four years as a professor here.I was hearing allegations from a source in a recent Spartan story that the quotes attributed to him in the newspaper were completely fabricated and that he had never spoken to the reporter other than to tell him that he didn’t have time to speak with him.
As a journalist for nearly two decades and advisor to the school paper, that was like a punch to the head.
Thousands of thoughts flowed through my head, especially after just concluding a lesson in my ethics class on faking the news.
How would I approach the reporter? Will this ethical mistake – in my mind the worst mistake anyone can make in journalism – get outside of Castleton’s walls? Will I have to deal with interviews by local or national media about the news faker and would it forever cast a negative light on the journalism program here that I’ve worked really hard to bolster?
I was literally getting sick about it.
Then I talked to the reporter, who disputed what the source said, saying he interviewed him after a concert late at night – but in a talking fashion and without a notebook. He was adamant that interview had taken place.
The source was then contacted again, and said he had forgotten that night, and said he probably did say the comments attributed to him, which made my blood pressure drop immensely and allowed me to breathe again.
But to me, the issue wasn’t over. I didn’t like the fact that a source could have been ‘interviewed’ without really knowing it. I mean, if it was some expose about an issue where the deceit would uncover a matter of international security or unveil some tragic abuse of human rights or something, I’d say that’s OK. But the story wasn’t a heavy hitter and the tactic wasn’t needed.
And in speaking with the reporter and picking apart the story a little, I learned that some of the passages in the story that made the reader feel like the reporter witnessed the action, were essentially a compilation of stories and sights he’d seen – but not specific to the source – as was portrayed.
In my classes, especially the ethics class, I preach how important it is to write and report accurate unbiased stories. To do less erodes the credibility of an already tarnished profession – thanks in part to news fakers like reporters Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass.
We can’t give readers any more reasons not to trust what they read in the paper every day.
As advisor to the paper, I’m glad that we don’t have a true news faker on our staff, but I’m disappointed that we were accused of it and got a little closer to that than I’d like. I think a valuable lesson has been learned here by the reporter and I hope this is the last time I have to stress out over this sort of thing.
David Blow – Spartan advisor