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Typewriters, Technology and Trust

January 1, 2009

dean-150Dean Wright is Global Editor, Ethics, Innovation and News Standards. Any opinions are his own.

A little girl in my family got a typewriter for Christmas.

Not a laptop. Nothing with a screen. A typewriter. The old-fashioned manual kind with a smeary ribbon and keys that stick.

Typewriters had pretty much gone the way of dodo birds, car tail fins and cigar-chomping editors who yell “Stop the Presses” quite some years before my granddaughter was born. But it was the typewriter used by the school-age, aspiring journalist in the movie “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl” that captivated her.

Or maybe it was the way the typewriter was used. In the movie, a tween-ish girl, played winningly by Abigail Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine“), does old-fashioned journalism and writes stories that help right a wrong in Depression-era Cincinnati. Kit may be young, but in a challenging environment she keeps her wits—and a strong sense of ethics—about her.

In today’s rapidly realigning media landscape, typewriters have long since given way to laptops, BlackBerries, camera phones, video phones and Twitter. But here at Thomson Reuters, and in the media as a whole, the need for a strong sense of ethics has never been more necessary.

Not all Hollywood depictions of our profession are that inspiring to would-be journalists — mainly because of the way some on-screen reporters behave.

Take “Ace in the Hole,” Billy Wilder’s 1951 tale of a reporter (Kirk Douglas) who cynically prolongs and manipulates coverage of a man trapped in a cave in the hope of returning to the big time. Douglas’s Chuck Tatum is as cynical as Kit is idealistic.

“I can handle big news and little news,” he tells an editor. “And if there’s no news, I’ll go out and bite a dog.” Later, referring to a sign in the newsroom that reads “Tell the Truth,” Tatum acknowledges some guilt. But, “Not enough to stop me. I’m on my way back to the top, and if it takes a deal with a crooked sheriff, that’s alright with me! And if I have to fancy it up with an Indian curse and a broken hearted wife for Leo, then that’s alright too!”

In both movies, the journalists use typewriters. It’s what they do with them that makes the difference. And today, it’s what we do with our hardware—the journalism we produce—that makes the difference.

At Thomson Reuters, there are five Trust Principles that form the bedrock on which our journalism rests. The principles, adopted by Reuters in 1941 and fully embraced by Thomson when it acquired Reuters in 2008, state that:

• Thomson Reuters shall at no time pass into the hands of any one interest, group or faction;

• Integrity, independence and freedom from bias shall at all times be fully preserved;

• Thomson Reuters shall supply unbiased and reliable news services to newspapers, news agencies, broadcasters and other media subscribers and to businesses, governments, institutions, individuals and others with whom Thomson Reuters has or may have contracts;

• Thomson Reuters shall pay due regard to the many interests which it serves in addition to those of the media; and

• No effort shall be spared to expand, develop and adapt the news and other services and products of Thomson Reuters so as to maintain its leading position in the international news and information business.

To me, at the heart of these principles are the preservation of integrity, independence and freedom from bias and the requirement that we expand, develop and adapt to maintain a leading position in news and information.

It means ethics and standards are compatible with innovation. In fact, they have to go hand in hand.

It means independent and unbiased news reporting. It also means embracing blogging, multimedia storytelling, providing knowledgeable and insightful columnists like James Saft and Bernd Debusmann; engaging with our community of users and taking advantage of the offerings of citizen journalists in You Witness. It means being ready to use technology and storytelling forms we haven’t thought of yet.

There’s a lot of room for innovation here, but there’s no room for a Chuck Tatum, who would do anything to get to the top.

In about 2020, my granddaughter will probably be using technology that hasn’t been developed yet to work on her school “newspaper,” and it almost certainly won’t be produced on paper. She won’t be using her typewriter but she will, I hope, be using what she’s learned from the journalists of this generation. It’s up to us to set the right example.

Comments

Dear Mr. Wright:

I am impressed, this is the third good article I read from you in a row. I mean this as a complement, I was beginning to loose hope in journalism.

I work in high-tech; clearly I am all for all things that are high tech. How we use them, however, is another thing altogether. Pope Benedict in a recent Encyclical letter makes the point that one must distinguish between technical and moral progress; in this case ethical progress. I think this is at the heart of the question you ask.

I remember in graduate school, it was in the late 70′s (this shows you my age), there was a news clip regarding the Sandinista revolution in Central America. An American journalist was killed by the government troops and this was caught on tape. I don’t remember the name of the news anchorman, but he was from ABC. He was handed over a note while he was in the air, and he flatly refused to say anything in the air that was not confirmed. What a difference from the CNN-like attitude one sees today. The equivalent of the soldier who shoots first and asks questions later. How many times news have been put in the air that were wrong and hurt peoples lives and reputations.

I ask you, what is the responsibility a new organization has to verify a story before is put in the air? If they are wrong what is the proper course of action? To be fair, I have seen news outlets make a correction but I don’t recall an instance where the frequency matched the number of times the incorrect news were aired.

Sincerely;

C. Garza

Posted by Cesar Garza, PhD | Report as abusive
 

i read your true and fine words and if you will allow me i will add.. if after time experience history and actual results prove you reported the story wrong or perhaps reported and spent your well meaning time on the wrong story .. you wil have not….done …your.. job … as a journalist…. you are perhaps Gods truthtellers to the rest of the world and like artist and philantripist and great spiritual leaders you have both great rewards in the guise of witnessing the cusp of history as it happens and factually recording that for all humanity to decide what it means to them in thier idividual ways depending upon thier indiviual life experiences and will come up with the individual and correct solutions …. if you do you job well i am a dyslexic artist but i am far from a weak , hopeless person in a world filled with lies and cheats i will also have my mark made on earth just the way i want to make it as imperfectly as that will be.. but please never doubt my sincerity as a human being and this i think may be the key to success in anny pursuit in life… sincerity if your are faking it… you will never never make it… thats my opinion for what its worth but i’m the son of a long line of southwestern virginia blueridge mountain hillbilly. we ain’t fancy but sum tymes we are rite

 

Well written, and filled with high-minded ideals. Too bad, Reuters can’t live up to all of them.
I doubt we will ever fully find the the kind of trust that you address in your op-ed piece, but it is good that we should have something to shoot for…..

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive
 

We have seen many biased media that feed public with false, misleading, manipulated news and at the same time result favors to controlling elite group. Money (and threat – as usual) can really talk.

I hope THOMSON REUTERS could survive thru great challange in presenting events/news as is without bias. Do not manipulate the facts in order to serve in favor for some elite whose pocket or power is very something. Thanks for great journalism that could enlight especially young people.

Posted by Goodman | Report as abusive
 

You said: “And today, it’s what we do with our hardware—the journalism we produce—that makes the difference.”

The use of the hardware comes after the decision is made on what you wish to do, “what” story to tell and “how” you want to tell it.

A large majority of the ethics issues are addressed prior to the use of the hardware, prior to making the decision on what story to tell and how to tell the story.

The decision on how to tell the story is where the ethics conversts news to propaganda. 99 percent of what is called news today is nothing but propaganda. After 50 years of subscribing to a morning paper I have canceled all of my subscriptions (print and on line). Show me a real un biased news source and I will subscribe.

I don’t even ask that today’s reporters provide investigative reports, just don’t be so slanted / biased / one sided.

Posted by Ronnie Sartain | Report as abusive
 

Well said Mr. Wright. Just when I thought 2008 was the year that journalism died you offer a ray of hope.

As far as technology is concerned. Do you remember when seeing-was-believing? It’s so easy to manipulate things anymore that those days are gone. Trust is all we got now, and in these times, thats hard to do.

I yearn for the days when you can rely on a mans good word and a handshake.

Posted by Ben | Report as abusive
 

Dean Wright wrote; ‘Thomson Reuters shall supply unbiased and reliable news services’,'It means … unbiased news reporting’.
Take a look at Nidal al-Mughrabi’s coverage of Israel’s current conflict with Hamas. His emphasis is on the unavoidable collateral harm to civilians of Israel’s attempts to stop Hamas from firing rockets at Israel’s civilians. If you say his reporting is not biased against Israel then you are blind. Or a hypocrite.

Posted by Kevin | Report as abusive
 

Advancement in technology is achieved through innovation that facilitates human’s life day after day. Such advanced technology has let journalists to work more efficiently and furiously. But technology aided journalism can not go ahead due to professional pressure and suffocation in the present corporate environment and culture.Journalism, based on ethical codes, is not fully ‘works for public’today at all. Journalism can not produce manythings that are fulfilling a larger portion of populations interests.News organizations have converted the greater part of journalism into saleable commodity in the fast moving market. Jouralism has been victimized today, by the shrewedly profit seeking business enterprises, who have been utilizing the innovative part of journalism as quickly marketable products by pulverzging all ethical codes.

Journalists,oftenly try utmost to preserve and impliment the ethics of journalism at their innovative works, but ‘Editor’s yardstick’ does not concede or allow its excellence as to satisfy the need of buiness owner. ‘Expression of truth’in journalism is intrinsically presented in colourful manner and emotionally well as to confide the right one. What does it signify? Is it mean the incompetency of journalists in retaining ethical codes. Big houses of news organization have been trying to control the advancement of innovation in journalism -just to preserve the interests of fewers-to empower the potential groups-by keeping a larger portion of population in darkness. Is it balance? Nor it is unbiased?

News organizations are ‘news manufacturing concern’ today, find opportunistically wide marketability by humiliating all ethical codes. Yes, the ‘logo or insignia’ of ethical codes are displayed well! Modern journalism is very badly in the grip of atrocious capitalism. It resort so many tricky practices to amaze or attract a larger populations by hedging the objectives just to making money.Naturally,the great mission of journalism is not getting reflected with greater outcome in our society as dependence and incredibilty both are gaining ground firmly.

 

Mugabe must be happy!!!!!

All this news about Gaza etc., is fine, it is terrible but what about Zimbabwe more people are dying in Zimbabwe every day than in Gaza and that is fact. The world is having all the publicity on Gaza where hundreds are dying but very little publicity about Mugabe´s killing spree of thousands.
No reporters hounding Mugabe must make him very happy. So the Zimbabwean killing escalates and nothing is said.
Tell the governments of the world to stop talking and get some action.

Posted by Chipinduka | Report as abusive
 

The finest story teller will fill your ears with truth & will avail upon you that this truth shall set you free.

Posted by simon | Report as abusive
 

“Ethics” caught my eye and led me to your statement. I have been studying ethics and conscience in viablilty. That is, that without ethics and conscience, humans are not a viable species. We are nothing but a great number of super-efficient piranhas. Our world is limited, our appetites are not. Limited supply, faced with unlimited demand, creates extinction.Therefore we must employ ethics and conscience in order for our own survival and that of the web of life of which we are a part.
Ethics in journalism would bring some newspapers back from the brink of bankruptcy. Imagine the market for the details of the Bush crimes, done as thoroughly as a good paper can. Imagine a defense of the journalist, Dan Rather, fired from CBS for telling the truth about Bush. Imagine the alternatives, ready to go, to oil, pesticides, patented genetics, and high-priced DSL. That would be ethics like we have unfortunately not seen. We can neither escape vested interests, nor stop killing each other, much less adhere to ethical admonitions to end the killing of whales and dolphins or the dumping of nuclear wastes in our oceans. We have extinguished the fish stocks and filled our waters with heavy metals. Now tell me all about your precious ethics and let’s see how much airtime or column space you get, next to the ads.

Posted by martin weiss | Report as abusive
 

Someone needs to inform the Obama’s that a Portuguese Water Dog is not a Portuguese Water Hound. A Portuguese Water Dog is not a hound, it is from the Working Group, not Hound……..just in case someone wants to pass this along

Posted by Lynne Renaud | Report as abusive
 

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