Over the past few months we have lost two of America’s most prominent and celebrated journalists. Andy Rooney (January 14, 1919 – November 4, 2011) and this past weekend, Mike Wallace (May 9, 1918 – April 7, 2012).
The passing of these two men doesn’t just reflect the loss of two journalists, but the loss of the art of traditional journalism. These two men began their careers in a time when stories were something you dug for, not aggregated. A time when the pen, not the twitter feed, determined the speed and scope of a story. A story wasn’t told in 140 characters.
They are from an era of true ‘hard news’, when countless interviews and hours of research were done to get the story. Sources didn’t come from Wikipedia or culled from previously written articles. It was determination and a desire to tell the whole story that produced some of the most memorable and profound journalism pieces of the time.
As we watch how journalism is being transformed in the 21st century, it is important to take the time to remember and incorporate the traditional ideals of journalism into modern news gathering. Though there is a benefit to the digital age – news travels faster than ever before and often times we have the news before the news agencies themselves.
But there is a greater risk for error when the time to check facts and check sources is eliminated from the equation.
A prime example is Jayson Blair, a former journalist for the New York Times who was able to plagiarize stories and fabricate stories during his tenure with the leading newspaper. When his offences were discovered, it shone a light on the lack of accuracy often found in stories as well as the ability to take the work of others and easily promote it as your own.
Modern journalism has also brought about the ‘citizen journalist’. Now anyone with a smartphone and a blog can call themselves a journalist. Gone are the days of journalism classrooms and years of studying news gathering techniques. With the flash of a camera and the click of an upload button, new journalism has been born.
It is difficult to say whether or not this new wave of journalism will be of benefit in time. It is more and more difficult to determine bias in stories. It also makes determining what the ‘real story’ is even more cloudy.
Perhaps, if nothing else, we should carry with us the will and integrity men such as Wallace and Rooney demonstrated in their own news gathering and reporting and use it to ensure the messages we are taking in are legitimate and when they are not, use these tools to find the truth.
The tough questions must still be asked and the deeper story must still be told.
A writer’s job is to tell the truth – Andy Rooney