In her August 11 editorial, Alexandra Petri asks, “How should we talk about our Olympic women?” Itʻs a call for equity and integrity in journalistic leadership.
Petri writes: “For many athletes, the Olympics mark the moment when they become celebrities. It is a moment we have not yet mastered, when they climb out of the pool and people ask what they think about the election and who does their hair, not what they ate for breakfast and why they used a particular kick.
It is the packaging and the imaging and the talking, not the racing, that we need to worry about.
I’m glad female athletes are finally getting bigger billing. We need more of it. The solution to female athletes being talked about badly is not simply to complain about the bad incidents but to talk about them better, to focus on the right thing. To publish profiles that focus on substance, not frivolous arcana. Give us more of everything.”
Like Petri, and as a former journalist, I want us to “focus on substance” and with integrity. Following the spin is making journalism into a slavish follower of entertainment, not the nobler principles of the free press.
Consider these excerpted ethics goals from the Society of Professional Journalists:
— Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
— Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
— Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
— Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
— Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
— Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
Itʻs a difficult task — news written quickly, on deadline, and in a system that rewards flash as much as (if not more than) substance. Giving in to the seduction of the slick lead and the clever spin is careless followership. Great journalists are leaders-in-the-knowledge-trenches.
We need them to lead us, as Petri says, towards substance, an uphill battle in our culture of celebrity and twitter-wit. And as followers of news-of-the-day, we must demand more, too, from journalism and from ourselves.