Jim Lehrer made his list of journalism rules public recently for his PBS news program. In a similar but funny move, humor columnist Gene Weingarten published his list of “the secrets that journalists never told you, until now” in the Washington Post December 13.
The parody list may not be the best tool for ethical journalism, but it does offer some ironic gems, including:
If you spell enough words wrong, it’s not plagiarism.
When you make up quotes for nonexistent people, use names that are not easily checkable. Bad: “Phineas McFoosterstein, East Blacksburg, Va.” Good: “Edward Johnson, America.”
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If you have a famous dry witticism but can’t find its source, attribute it to Dorothy Parker. Everyone else does.
Remember that good news is interesting, too. Don’t harp only on war, crime, famine, joblessness, scandals and so forth. Throw in the occasional warm, spiritually uplifting tale about a mother’s love for her child who was born without a head.
iMediaEthics’ advice: Stick with Lehrer’s rules, or the comprehensive list published by the Society of Professional Journalism, for real world problems. But feel free to refer to Weingarten’s advice if you’re ever in a situation where you’re trying to weigh whether or not to pistol-whip a source, or if you can’t remember whether Dorothy Parker said it or not. (Hint: She did.)
Read his column in full here.