Sentinel under Siege: The Triumphs and Troubles of America's Free Press

By Stanley E. Flink | Go to book overview

24
TRAINING THE WATCHDOGS

I sort of drew up the specifications for the job [ombudsman] back in 1970. And I thought that what the paper needed out of this character was firstly a person who would monitor the paper every day for fairness and balance and whatever professional standards we were trying to uphold. Secondly, that this character should be available to the public to deal with complaints about the news columns or the editorial page.

-- Richard Harwood, Washington Post editor, ombudsman, columnist

Assurance of the broadest freedom of information, whether assisted by the government, discovered by the journalist, or validated by the judiciary -- a kind of separation and balance of powers in itself -- requires a comity on all sides, an acceptance of common principles, and the knowledge that those who are involved in the communications of a democracy play a major role in its governance. That mandate introduces the last component -- at least in this rendering -- of unfinished First Amendment business: the ethical responsibility of the press. In previous chapters the subject of ethical codes, press criticism, and public disenchantment has been examined. The point to make now concerns the pragmatically beneficial fallout from a policy of responsible, accountable journalism. Virtue in this regard has not been its own reward -- not, that is, in the minds of bottom-line managers, cynical editors, and careerist reporters. For them the rewards must be more immediate in the highly charged mass media universe, although awareness of the long-term benefits has been growing substantially since the late 1980s. Seminars and symposia are organized more frequently at universities and among the large number of journalistic associations. Ombudsmen are functioning more visibly and effectively at more than thirty important newspapers. There is even one surviving news council that was formed in Minnesota and that has carried out, since 1971, statewide monitoring of the press. Most papers, daily or weekly, are learning to use letters from readers,

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Sentinel under Siege: The Triumphs and Troubles of America's Free Press
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - IN SEARCH OF A ROLE 5
  • 2 - THE PRESS AND THE LAW 18
  • 3 - MALICE WITHOUT WIT 29
  • 4 - POMP AND PROVENANCE 45
  • 5 - PRACTICING FREEDOM 70
  • 6 - THE LIMITS OF LIBERTY 78
  • 7 - CRAFTING A CONSTITUTION 87
  • 8 - SAFEGUARDING LIBERTY 95
  • 9 - ENLARGING THE FOURTH ESTATE 100
  • 10 - THE BLOODIEST WAR 112
  • 11 - THE BOTTOM LINES 120
  • 12 - TURNING AWAY 140
  • 13 - THE FIRST AND THE FOURTEENTH 149
  • 16 - TRASH AND FLASH 172
  • 17 - THE IS AND THE OUGHT 180
  • 18 - THE CRITICS 188
  • 19 - FEAR AND LOATHING 197
  • 20 - THE WEIGHT OF OBLIGATIONS 209
  • 21 - THE PARADOX OF SELF-GOVERNMENT 218
  • 22 - LIBEL AND LIABILITY 234
  • 23 - FREE AS THE AIR 244
  • 24 - TRAINING THE WATCHDOGS 256
  • EPILOGUEO: PATHFINDING 262
  • Notes 271
  • SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY 301
  • ABOUT THE BOOK AND AUTHOR 309
  • Index 311
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