Journalist blogs and discussion boards lit up this week with yet another revelation that one of the profession’s rising stars was busted for making up quotes and lying about it.
On Monday, Jonah Lehrer, a 31-year-old journalist and author, resigned from his job
at The New Yorker
for making up quotes by Bob Dylan in his best-selling book “Imagine: How Creativity Works.” Earlier, Lehrer apologized for recycling his work at other outlets for posts at The New Yorker
Lehrer released a statement through his publisher: “The lies are over now. I understand the gravity of my position. I want to apologize to everyone I have let down, especially my editors and readers.”
Lehrer’s book has been pulled from the shelves, and media outlets who called him everything from “wunderkind writer” to “celebrated journalist” are now being forced to look inward to figure out how this happened and how to keep it from happening again.
Unfortunately, while this incident was a high-profile journalism gaffe, there have been a host of them lately. The quick run-down: A Wall Street Journal
intern this summer was caught fabricating sources; a reporter for the New Canaan News
was also caught fabricating sources and fired in June; and a photographer from the Chicago Sun-Times’ suburban papers made up elements of a weekly photo essay.
This week, The New York Times
columnist David Carr offered his take on why these situations continue to happen:
“The news media often fail to turn the X-ray machine on themselves because, in part, journalists assign a nobility to the profession that obscures the flaws within it,” Carr wrote. “We think of ourselves as doing the People’s work, and write off lapses in ethics and practices as potholes on the way to a Greater Truth.”
For the PR profession, what can we learn from these transgressions by journalists?
• We need to keep telling our clients that the vetting process for reporting might not be as buttoned-up as it used to be, likely due to fewer people in the newsroom.
Gil Rudawsky is a former reporter and editor. He heads up the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Younger reporters are not going through the long apprentice period before being flung out on the front pages or in the spotlight.
• Competition for top billing on shrinking space is fierce, making some forgo the tried and true steps of accurate reporting.
• Finally, expect more corrections, and be diligent about making someone aware of a mistake—if you can get a hold of someone first.