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After Jayson Blair, journalists seek a better way forward

October 18, 2013


Grant, producer of a documentary on the Jayson Blair case, leads a discussion on solving the ethics issues faced by journalists.

Grant, producer of a documentary on the Jayson Blair case, leads a discussion on solving the ethics issues faced by journalists.

The public’s trust in journalists had been steadily slipping even before New York Times reporter Jayson Blair’s unveiling as a plagiarist in 2003. While some of that trust has been recovered, journalists still face a wary audience.

At the Online News Association convention in Atlanta on Thursday, a room of journalists and educators brainstormed ideas to rebuild reader confidence and reinvent story-checking to minimize if not prevent other episodes of journalism deception.

A sneak peek of Samantha Grant’s documentary, “A FRAGILE TRUST: Plagiarism, Power and Jayson Blair at The New York Times,” scheduled to air on PBS in spring, set the stage for the discussion.

In the documentary, Blair recalls the events that led to his undoing, beginning with his copying from a story in the San Antonio Express-News.

“I lied and I lied and I lied,” Blair said. “They were lies with details.”

Blair describes how the culture of speed turned more intense at The New York Times after the appointment of Executive Editor Howell Raines, who was charged with accelerating the newspaper’s content online and on other platforms.

In remarks prepared for the ONA session, Kelly McBride, Poynter Institute faculty member and media ethicist, said, post-Blair, journalists continued to lose one to two points in credibility polls each year.

“We are now down to low 20s, in terms of the number of people who find journalists credible,” she noted. Lately, however, the numbers have leveled off and have climbed a point or two. “Will we ever reverse the trend? If we do, it will be a very slow reversal.”

Grant said she hopes the Blair affair and other such scandals are unique but asked the session audience to join her in thinking up tools that could solve the problems journalists face in checking facts and addressing ethical issues that arise daily. Read more at Poynter.


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