The Ethics of the Story: Using Narrative Techniques Responsibly in Journalism

Article excerpt

The Ethics of the Story: Using Narrative Techniques Responsibly in Journalism. David Craig. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. 208 pp. $27.95 pbk.

A skim through the table of contents of The Ethics of the Story could lead the casual reader to perceive this book as a typical textbook on reporting or editing. The chapter titles sound familiar enough: "Description and Attribution"; "Quotes and Paraphrasing"; "Word Choice, Labeling and Bias."

But a closer look reveals that the treatment of these topics is anything but perfunctory. The Ethics of the Story is an illuminative discussion of the intersections of journalistic practices and philosophies. It is an important work that addresses audiences both in the classroom and in the newsroom.

The author, David Craig, has gone straight to the source of what is happening in newsrooms across the country, interviewing sixty journalists about the ethical choices they make in their jobs. A former copy editor who now teaches at the University of Oklahoma, Craig has spoken with reporters, copy editors, and assignment editors at the Oregonian, the Dallas Morning News, and the Los Angeles Times. The depth and candor of their comments show that Craig is an effective interviewer in his own right; the clarity with which he presents his findings demonstrates his prowess as a writer.

The method of in-the-newsroom interviewing serves as a perfect vehicle in the drive to find answers to the questions that Craig poses: How are journalists reflecting reality in their writing and editing? How does the simple act of deciding which direct quote to use from an interview affect the value of truth? How does a choice of wording by an editor alter the tenor of a story? What are the ethical values that form the foundation of these choices?

The questions may seem obvious, but they have often gone unasked even in the face of high-profile violations of ethical responsibilities in journalism. Craig mentions the fabrications perpetrated by reporters Jayson Blair and Jack Kelley and the devastation they brought on the entire profession.

Craig is not especially interested in this scandalous side of the profession, however. Instead, he focuses on the behavior of honest journalists. These are hardworking, straightforward people attempting to present readers with the reality around them with the tools of reporting, writing, and editing. …