Yesterday, I came across "Lehrer's Rules" via Chris Bishop's Twitter:
"I promise you, one thing is never going to change. And that's our mission. People often ask me if there are guidelines in our practice of what I like to call MacNeil/Lehrer journalism. Well, yes, there are. And here they are:"Reading over Lehrer's rules, I realized I had failed at all of them.
Do nothing I cannot defend. I think pretty much everything I've done, professionally and personally, is indefensible. From writing about pr0n to nodding vacantly at the woman who asked if I minded if she went and smoked crack in the bathroom to the fact that journalism is inherently traitorous, it's hard to think of anything I've ever done that I could defend. Which probably makes for less work. Defending things, that is.
Cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me. Ha-ha. Eh, no. God forbid anyone ever writes a story about me. One of my favorites, and by favorites I mean "favorites," was a story someone wrote about me entitled: "Who the Fuck Is Susannah Breslin?" While I try and write the "truth," I would hope stories written about me would be a heady cocktail of flattering lies.
Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story. As Candice Bergen once said to me: "Well, duh." Of course, this is the problem of every story. The convenience is believing your story is the truerest one.
Assume the viewer is as smart and as caring and as good a person as I am. Wow. Not sure how to touch this one with a 20-foot pole. Am I "caring" and "good"? The negation of that sort of destroys the premise upon which this, um, theory is based. Next?
Assume the same about all people on whom I report. But what about all the idiots?
Assume personal lives are a private matter, until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise. How very Rockwellian. How 1952. Welcome to 2009, buddy. "Assume personal lives are a public matter, until someone sues you." One exception to the rule: kids. I met a lot of pr0n star's kids, and don't think I ever wrote about them. They are collateral damage. Why add to the disaster?
Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories, and clearly label everything. Maybe if I had one of those old school labeling guns, I could work on this. Also, "straight news stories" are super boring. Opinion is like gun powder. Watch it go bang.
Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes, except on rare and monumental occasions. Well, that's no fun.
No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously. Then why do I keep getting all these hate-emails?
And, finally, I am not in the entertainment business. Ah, yes. Well, I am. Or, perhaps we both are, Jim, and I'm the only one who will admit it.
In any case, I fail. I'll try harder in 2010. Or maybe not.