We live in a time when truth is under siege, facts are doubted, and our ushers to understanding, journalists, are often humiliated. Each generation has its own torch bearers (which in itself is a good thing, I think). In the US, there was Walter Cronkite, then Tom Brokaw and Diane Sawyer, to name a few. But when I was coming of age in America and trying to figure out the world around me, I often turned to Jim Lehrer of PBS’ McNeil Lehrer News Hour.
I was very sad to hear that Jim Lehrer died last week, but in order, in my own very small way, to make sure his lessons don’t die with him, I want to list his important rules of journalism here.
- Cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me
- Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story
- Assume the viewer is as smart and as caring and as good a person as I am
- Assume the same about all people on whom I report
- Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise
- Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label everything
- Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions
- No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously
- And finally, [he] was not in the entertainment business
You can listen to him recite these rules in his own voice here, which is, for me, both soothing and reassuring. And thanks to my comrade-in-arms, Kitty Johnson, for finding this clip.