Legends Set Bar Future of Journalism

“In the English language, it all comes down to this: Twenty-six letters, when combined correctly, can create magic. Twenty -six letters form the foundation of a free, informed society.” -John Grogan

All the President’s Men is truer to the craft of journalism than to the art of storytelling, and that’s its problem.

The book and even the movie is an accurate depiction of the journey these  investigative reporters took. As we could expect, and yet the process overwhelms the narrative.

In All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are forced to make several ethical decisions because of just how much bigger this story was– people’s lives were at risk, people were facing jail time and the story could’ve put a president down from his nation in the blink of an eye.

These men were not only ambitious in seeing this story to its’ rightful end, but they were rookies in the news room. However, the two journalists made history not for their work but how they conducted their work– a rather rare quality found in solid journalism today.

There was something unique about these journalists that I feel is a lost quality found in what defines a journalist as a “journalist.”Through their research, Woodward and Bernstein used the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.

“What the heck is that?”, you ask. Well, it’s the current guide for journalists to use when making judgment calls on their reporting and there are four main concepts journalists usually swear a sort of oath by.

Those codes being; seek the truth and report it, minimize harm (reputational), act independently and take accountability.

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“Journalists should: ….— Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing….”

Woodward and Bernstein were a dynamic duo in journalism. The two were adrift in a research– knee deep in evidence, given but an inch of information each step closer that they took. Yet miles left ahead until they covered enough ground to reach the  finish line.

Both Woodward and Bernstein appeared to have no issues with seeking the truth. The code says to be “honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.”

Woodward showed a desire to be honest and fair in his gathering of information but the courageous aspect is exemplified best by Bernstein. Bernstein is extremely persistent with sources, even and perhaps especially when those sources are being difficult or not willing to cooperate.

They gathered a sea of names, dates, telephone numbers, coincidences, lucky breaks, false leads, dogged footwork, denials, evasions, and sometimes even the truth.

I feel this “new generation” of journalism lacks thoroughness. Gaps and loopholes that would’ve better made the story hole are often overlooked because of the laziness in reporting today.

Impatience in meeting deadline, not getting enough (accurate) sources or even twisting a story to one’s own bias are key factors to what has left many with a sour taste for what journalism truly is.

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Uncovering thousands of details led up to Watergate and the Nixon resignation, many sources wished to be kept anonymous. Both Woodward and Bernstein built a trusting relationship with their sources which aided them in allowing to get more information.

Good reporting is respecting your sources no matter what. Woodward and Bernstein both used creative tactics to help their sources feel comfortable in allowing their names to be used– now that’s good journalism!

This is an important code of ethics in journalism that really set the bar for the future of journalism. When reporting a story of this magnitude, building trust between you and is imperative.

Reporters have yet to accomplish what Woodward and Bernstien have since the Watergate Scandal was uncovered– they are, in my opinion, the icons of authentic journalism– journalism at its finest.

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“Journalists should: …. — Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.”

The stories being published were about a government scandal. While at the beginning neither Woodward nor Bernstein knew the impact their reports would eventually have, each made decisions that would impact lives of people involved.

Both movies and books made after newspaper stories, play up the excitement and ignore the boredom and the waiting.

“— Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.”

The journalists were both vigilant and courageous about this point. Those involved were accountable. Those involved in the scandal also happened to be public officials and therefor very powerful men and women.

Once we’ve seen one cycle of investigative reporting, Woodward and Bernstein cracked the first wall separating the break-in from the White House, we understand their method.

“Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.”

Woodward and Bernstein were continually checking each other’s work. They would cross-check sources and information with one another before printing anything. Had either of them made a mistake, both seemed as though they would take the blame for the article.

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I feel as though this step is often mistaken in modern-day reporting. Misquoting and not double-checking facts and sources is popular and common.

Although we are able to fix our mistakes through digital journalism, this almost lost quality in journalism is beginning to fade away.

The dynamic due followed the story through until it led closer and closer to an end we already knew.

All of these elements in “All the President’s Men” are to be praised.

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Though journalism has evolved in so many ways, the power and place journalism holds in our society is shaped by the future of news– both Woodward and Bernstein set the bar high for what it means to be not a “good journalist”, but a legendary journalist.

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One thought on “Legends Set Bar Future of Journalism

  1. Paul Bradshaw

    If you’re going to measure any journalist against Woodward and Bernstein – whether that’s today’s, yesterday’s or the 19th century’s – they’ll come up short. It’s like saying that today’s physicists are inadequate because they don’t all come up with seminal theories like Einstein.

    Journalism has always had its lazy journalists, its unethical practitioners. To truly compare one generation with another you’d have to do a proper quantitative study of their output. That, indeed, would be ethical: it would be a pursuit of accuracy.

    “Journalists should: ….— Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing….” indeed – do give your subjects an opportunity to respond!

    Like

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