Journalism and Truth: Strange Bedfellows/What Good Is Journalism? How Reporters and Editors Are Saving America's Way of Life

By Grimes, Charlotte | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview
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Journalism and Truth: Strange Bedfellows/What Good Is Journalism? How Reporters and Editors Are Saving America's Way of Life


Grimes, Charlotte, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


* Goldstein, Tom (2007). Journalism and Truth: Strange Bedfellows. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, pp. 207.

* Kennedy, George and Daryl Moen (eds.) (2007). What Good Is Journalism? How Reporters and Editors Are Saving America's Way of Life. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, pp. 171.

In teaching-especially in teaching journalism-we need two kinds of tales: the cautionary tale and the inspirational tale.

Here we have one of each: For cautions, Journalism and Truth by Tom Goldstein explores the difficult terrain and pitfalls of pursuing what he calls "journalistic truth." And for inspiration, What Good Is Journalism?-edited by George Kennedy and Daryl Moen -has a subtitle that says it all: "How Reporters and Editors Are Saving America's Way of Life." (Can you say "Amen!"?)

In the obligatory note of transparency, the worlds of journalism and journalism education are small enough that I'm acquainted with some of these authors. Tom Goldstein was on the Hampton University advisory council when I was head of the journalism program there. And while I don't know Kennedy or Moen, I do fraternize occasionally with several of their book's writers. I respect all of them as generous, thoughtful colleagues.

On the surface, these two books seem vastly different. But to my mind, both have common threads that are ail-too important for journalism and journalists: our relationship with democracy and our relationship with the public. Both books, in different ways, also make clear that we-journalists and journalism educators both-must do a much better job of explaining journalism and truth, of explaining how journalism is good for America. That need for explanation is extraordinarily important as we stare down the gun-barrel of technology that's blasting apart the news business.

If you teach journalism, you'd want your students to read Journalism and Truth for reminders of journalists' obligations as truthseekers and their failings in the pursuit.

Goldstein isn't as cynical as the book's subtitle "Strange Bedfellows" suggests of the relationship between journalism and truth. Yes, the book has the usual suspects of journalistic malfeasance: Janet Malcolm, Jayson Blair, Janet Cooke, Stephen Glass, Judith Miller. Especially Judith Miller, whom Goldstein calls a "leitmotif" of the book.

Miller, formerly of the New York Times and probably eternally of WMDinfamy, comes in for special attention for her explanations of how she got the WMD story so wrong: "If your sources are wrong, you are wrong," as Miller is quoted more than once in the book. With her and the other wrongdoers, Goldstein is not willing to let journalists so easily off the hook. "Miller chose to convey the official line rather than to be appropriately skeptical of leaks that were officially sanctioned," judges Goldstein.

And that tone of outrage, along with the collection of suggestions, ultimately makes Journalism and Truth into healthy encouragement for the press rather than yet another snide, bitter diatribe against the loathsome MSM.

Goldstein, for example, sharply criticizes the "docudrama" for loosening our tether on reality and respect for facts. He frets-as I do-about students and others who don't seem to know or care about the difference between fact and fiction, who think that a little doctoring of the truth-dressed up as "literary license"-is fine in the interests of a "larger truth."

And he encourages journalists to learn from historians, social scientists, and the rules of law in finding ways of truth-testing. In the book's last chapter, titled "Looking Forward," Goldstein cautions about technology's changes that empower bloggers and tap into the audience's "urge to participate." Those mean, he suggests, "we are now at a watershed in journalism.

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