Every profession takes a lickin#039;

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 30, 2003

Once in awhile, it seems every profession takes it in the chops.

A few years ago, thanks to Rodney King, it was law enforcement.

Then, on occasion, you hear about school personnel being involved in sex abuse cases with students.

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Now, it's journalism's turn.

By now, many of you have heard of Jayson Blair. Just uttering his name sickens me, but that's how it is. Blair was the guy at The New York Times (the supposed crme de la crme of newspaperdom) who hoodwinked his editors into thinking he could spin yarn into gold. Because of his so-called great reporting and writing, they elevated him to become a national writer at the paper.

Unfortunately for the Times and its editors, they couldn't see the warning signs, namely numerous inaccuracies in Blair's stories.

The end result? Blair was finally canned, but not before the damage was done.

A few days later, Blair was quoted saying his destructive behavior was due in part because he wanted to "kill Jayson Blair, the journalist."

It doesn't take much to figure out that he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer. However, he sure sliced up journalism's reputation.

The thing that's really tough to take on this is that our credibility in journalism is based on trust. Our trust and our objectivity is our foundation, plain and simple. Our readers, and the people we interview, expect that we are going to get every spelling correct, every fact right about each item that we are reporting on.

I'm human and so is everyone else here. I've made mistakes in the past and I'm sure I'll make some in the future. Does that make it right? Of course not.

However, it doesn't mean that we can't continue to strive toward perfection, to keep reaching toward that goal each and every day. In my opinion, that should be the goal of every reporter and editor.

Speaking of opinions, I received a letter yesterday that totally missed the point. It was from reader who sent it to me personally, not wanting it to be printed as a letter to the editor.

She took me and the newspaper to task on a letter to the editor a few days ago that was critical of President Bush. She also criticized me for running the letter, saying we were "lowering our standards."

Further, the reader said that "it is also very unfair to print letters that show the political views of the newspaper and editor." Later, she said that "journalism is a wonderful thing without bias."

First off, the opinion page is exactly that -- about opinions. When you have opinions, you're biased. It's the one page in the newspaper that unique to this topic.

As for me personally, I readily admit that I'm about the most moderate voter you'll come across. I truly vote for the best candidate. To me, it's about the person, not the party.

In the 1998 gubernatorial race in Illinois, I voted for a Democrat. This last presidential race, I voted for Bush.

I appreciate this reader cared enough about an issue to write me a letter.

If anything, I'll take it as a compliment, as I'm not afraid to run such a letter slamming a guy who deserved my vote.

My political views are one thing. My job as editor of this newspaper, leading a staff who are supposed to be unbiased in their coverage, is another.

Dan Fields can be reached at 434-2230 or by e-mail at :mailto:dan.fields@austindailyherald.com