Posted by: Khatija on Aug 22, 2011
Chatting to a friend last night one thing led to another and next thing we were on the topic of journalism. I was telling her about Shattered Glass, a movie that I had seen about American journalist, Stephen Glass, who was caught for making up stories, events and sources.
It was her interest in the movie (that she had not seen) that gave me the idea for my 12th blog post.
I couldn’t remember all the facts of the story so I decided to watch the movie again and basically it really does all come down to laziness, fraud and plagiarism. Well at least that was my initial response.
After further thought I realised that the movie, which is an over-simplification of the actual events, speaks to a deeper issue in the field of journalism. Shattered Glass highlights the impact of the changing media landscape, the economic pressures and threat of new media technologies on journalists.
Perhaps the definition of journalism requires a stricter definition. Instead of simply being responsible for reporting the facts and telling the stories of the people journalists should be responsible for reporting the facts based on verifiable evidence and telling the true stories of the people, real people not people made up to enhance an article.
Do we, as a media organisation, trust a journalist, give him or her carte blanche because he or she writes well, writes descriptively, captures the hearts and minds of the readers and increases newspaper sales?
The answer is no.
This puts not only journalists and the newspapers publication but also the media industry as a whole in disrepute. It taints the ethical code that emphasises truth and objectivity.
However, in a fast-paced deadline driven environment, commercial pressures threaten journalistic standards.
Glass’ case made me research other examples of journalists committing fraudulent acts and violating copyright laws.
Patricia Smith, former columnist for the Boston Globe based in the United States of America was also busted for fabricating people and quotes in four of her articles in 1998. The Globe discovered Smith's fabrications after senior editors double checked the sources of columnists, a monitoring process that is done regularly.
Even closer to home, Cynthia Vongai, who was the first black editor of Elle Magazine South Africa, allegedly plagiarised an article in her column in the Sowetan. The article had originally appeared on the internet website askmen.com.
After several other instances of plagiarism, News24 reported former Stellenbosch University journalism lecturer, Dr Herman Wasserman, as saying, “The internet is a tempting source of information it stores huge volumes of information whose source cannot be traced. Plagiarism undermines the credibility of the journalist and the publication."
The fact that plagiarized and made-up articles are even published, going through the hands of sub-editors and editors shows that either individual journalists are given too much freedom or that employees at all levels within the media organization are under such immense pressure that they do not have time to check and double-check.
For better quality and original journalism I think the South African media landscape requires a website like Churnalism which separate the journalism from the ‘churnalism’, in other words, the journalism that lacks creativity and has simple been copied from press releases.
Until next time