Pete Delaunay active 6 years, 6 months ago
Here’s one to chew on for a Monday: Jim Lehrer says
”Journalism isn’t about the truth. It’s about gathering fact. If you wait until you have the whole truth, you’ll never go to press or go on the air. The truth is much deeper than the facts.”
NewsHour’s Lehrer speaks with journalism students
By Ashley Withers, Contributing Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: Friday, October 8, 2010
Updated: Friday, October 8, 2010 00:10
In 1963, an SMU student had one last question for Jim Lehrer in his first speech.
”When you sit down at your typewriter to write a story for the Dallas Times Herald,who do you see as your reader?”
The life lessons of a long-time journalist, or a newspaperman as Lehrer calls himself, were the subject of his talk Wednesday night as part of the 11th Annual Rosine Smith Sammons Media Ethics Lecture Series.
The answer to the question Lehrer was asked has proven to him to be one of his greatest tools in his long career. In print and in broadcast, he talks to an individual. He sees a face; and that idea began for him here at SMU.
Caruth Auditorium was filled with journalism students, professors, Dallas community members, and members of the Sammons family, all eager to hear from the man whom Tony Pederson, the chair of the journalism division of the Meadows School of the Arts, described as ”one of the most distinguished voices of journalism.”
Lehrer, the executive editor and anchor of The NewsHouron PBS, held the attention of the entire audience, telling stories from his personal experiences in the field of journalism. He spoke of covering the Watergate hearings, having a personal and up-close connection with the JFK assassination, and of interviewing Martin Luther King, Jr. Lehrer also shared his beliefs on the code of ethics in journalism and what he feels is a journalist’s main function.
”Journalism isn’t about the truth. It’s about gathering facts,” said Lehrer. ”If you wait until you have the whole truth, you’ll never go to press or go on the air. The truth is much deeper than the facts.”
He knows from personal experience how that foundation can be shaken. While writing for The Dallas Morning News, Lehrer spent three months working on an expose of civil defense. Even though all of the facts were correct, the editor would not run the story because it could hurt a friend of the publisher. Lehrer then quit over his principles of ethics.
”I learned a lesson that I’ve carried with me ever since,” said Lehrer, who was hired by the Dallas Times Herald, the Morning News’ competition, immediately after.
”That was an impetuous thing to do, but I would do it all over again,” he said.
Students at the speech were able to listen to his many years of experience in the industry, taking his advice for a more ethical approach to journalism.
”I thought it was very interesting,” Chandler Schlegel, sophomore journalism major at SMU, said of the Sammons lecture. ”His dedication to journalism ethics before getting a story out there is inspirational and unheard of.”
But a long-term journalism career was not always his dream. As a 16-year-old boy growing up in Beaumont, Texas, Lehrer saw himself growing up to be a professional baseball player.
His coach, however, suggested he find an alternate career path. His fate was sealed when he turned in a paper to his English class and his teacher wrote across the top, ”Jimmy, you’re a very good writer.”
”Thank God I gave up baseball!” Lehrer joked about his career.
After the baseball plan fell through, Lehrer spent three years in the Marine Corp. Afterward, he worked for both The Dallas Morning Newsand the Dallas Times Herald, before switching over to television where he worked for KERA-TV, the Dallas PBS station.
He has since moved to Washington to work for PBS.
The Sammons Media Ethics Lecture Series is funded by the Rosine Foundation Fund of Communities Foundation of Texas, at the recommendation of Mary Anne Sammons Cree of Dallas. The series is named in honor of her mother, an early graduate of the journalism program at SMU.
The stories Lehrer shared from the course of his career demonstrate the changing times in media, particularly the growing ethical questions as media continues to expand. But Lehrer tried to leave the room partially filled with aspiring journalists with some hope.
”I may be the only optimist left,” said Lehrer. ”I really do buy into what Thomas Jefferson said. We have to have an informed electorate and the only way is the free press.”
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I agree that the truth is much deeper than the facts, but the times are also different. Back in Leher’s day, journalism was an ephemeral medium, yesterday’s TV broadcasts vanished into thin air and newspapers were only archived at the local library. Now that we have search engines and a vast ”record” of information online, people can dig deeper and they don’t even have to be journalists.
I think it’s quite exciting, but we still have to sort out issues of time/labor/compensation in order for this type of truth to be unearthed.
Interesting article John but misses the point. ’Pay to Play’ in his view is called product publicity or a PR firm being hired by an organization to promote goods or services. Key question he didn’t ask was whether the stations got a piece of the PR firm’s fee…and that’s the key. Product publicists in the old days had to convince a news saavy producer that the product was ’news’ and would be on interest to viewers. TV stations now sell undisclosed news features…KCPQ and KONG Morning News…KOMO Noon and 4 p.m Belo’s New Day sometimes will acknowledge sponsors of segments but not always and Belo’s NW Back Roads and Evening Mag ore the ’KING’ of ’news for sale’ by having undisclosed paid segments or segments that are ’bonused’ to advertisers. Mr. Rainey suggests that toy tour participating statiions ’failed to meet their legal obligation’ for ’standards of truth and transparancy…hmm.. Furthermore he relates FCC standards ’when a broadcast station transmits any matter for which moneny, sercie, or other valuable consideration is either directly or indirectly paid’ and should exercise ’reasonable dilligence’….Belo ducks this by saying ’they’ produce (infomerical) segments without influence from the payer…say what?
I was amused to read the second PSBJ article with subtle McGinn innuendo and the headline ’In with McGinn…Outsiders gain clout at Seattle CIty Hall”…Finally a politican that actually ’talks the talk (environmental stewardship) and walks the walk’ with more bike lanes, questions about a deep bore tunnel the size of which has never been attempted and has all the potential to become Seattles ’Big Dig’, and questions about a new SR520 bridge that lacks full funding but pols want to build anyway… Interesting the PSBJ is not talking directly with the mayor? No up close and personal…no interest in the mayor’s populist support from core Seattle voters. Is the PSBJ so close to the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Seattle Association that they’ve lost a sense of balance?
It’s a fair question @newshound — PSBJ should have thorough sit downs and ample communication with any Seattle mayor, regardless of whether the mayor’s background is in business, or the law, or something else entirely.
I’m a little suspicious of the general framing of McGinn as an ”outsider” — of course that’s not only by PSBJ and to some extent it’s by McGinn himself. Still the framing can be over done and misused. At times it seems politically motivated to marginalize what are mainstream positions and values in Seattle. ”Environmentalism” is not an ”outsider” value in Seattle, for example.
Station-sponsored special events have been going on for some time, but Seafair is a community event that attracts thousands to hundreds of events…Seafair has a strong Seattle tradition, but apparently is being marginalized as a one-station event…from Torchlight Parade to Hydros and Blue Angels. Hoopfest in Spokane sells ’exclusive’ broadcast rights to KXLY, thus preventing any other station in the market from entering the event! And it is on city streets! Interesting this ’exclusive’ arrangements gets no media attention there.In reply to - newshound posted an update: Attended the first Breakfast with the Blues fundraiser this morning with the Blue Angels, but no press except Seafair’s 20-year supporter KIRO TV. One of the past Seafair princesses was there who talked of the ’old days’ when ’press’ would follow her, the pirates and hydros throughout. Whatever happened to features? Is [...] · #
Attended the first Breakfast with the Blues fundraiser this morning with the Blue Angels, but no press except Seafair’s 20-year supporter KIRO TV. One of the past Seafair princesses was there who talked of the ’old days’ when ’press’ would follow her, the pirates and hydros throughout.
Whatever happened to features? Is the news too ’if it bleeds it leads’ focused?
I would imagine the same that’s happened to investigative journalism, anything that requires long form research and follow up is inched towards the chopping block for being too expensive.
That’s a great question. If it isn’t being sponsored by a parent company, and it isn’t bleeding, can it still be news?
I wondered something similar when observing how much more coverage KING 5 gave to the ”Family 4th” (of July) this year. What I wondered was to what degree is sponsorship driving what is considered news. Naturally there will be more emphasis on Seattle’s fireworks at KING 5 when they are broadcasting it live, but that was a significant, feel-good community story deserving lots of coverage on any network and in any medium.
When I search KOMO’s site for coverage, I am told the weather was terrible, police blocked a lot of streets and the traffic was terrible, and that I should go to Bellevue for ”the Symetra Bellevue Family 4th.” When I searched KIRO’s site, I found no mention of it. This was not a scientific study but it wasn’t reassuring, either. I used each site’s own search engine.
All of this makes me grouchy. I don’t like the rebranding of the 4th of July and I don’t like the idea that corporate sponsorship might decide what makes the news. I don’t know for certain this is the case — I have not counted minutes or words on broadcasts nor have I done any formal study of the coverage. I would like to read related studies though, and would support someone doing that work.
Station-sponsored special events have been going on for some time, but Seafair is a community event that attracts thousands to hundreds of events…Seafair has a strong Seattle tradition, but apparently is being marginalized as a one-station event…from Torchlight Parade to Hydros and Blue Angels. Hoopfest in Spokane sells ’exclusive’ broadcast rights to KXLY, thus preventing any other station in the market from entering the event! And it is on city streets! Interesting this ’exclusive’ arrangements gets no media attention there.
I don’t know the details with our local media in particular, but the idea of exclusivity agreements goes way back with national broadcasting. CBS pays big bucks to exclusively broadcast March Madness and other sporting events. The Super Bowl is a good example, though I’m not if they hand it out to the highest bidder or have some other system in place.