Friday, May 22, 2009

The Paper: Truth vs. Deadline

Danielle Sills

"The Paper," a 1994 film, brings up several good ethical questions. Is it wrong to steal true facts from other media outlets? How can journalists deal with confidential sources? However, one of the biggest issues that comes up is that of deadline. The whole film revolves around the inevitable fact that The New York Sun must find a story for the front page by deadline - no matter what. Throughout the movie, the staff works to decide what it will be.

Deadlines and False Truths
The most climactic scene is when one of the managing editors, Alicia, says she doesn't care if the story they print on the first page is true. If it's false, she says, they will print a retraction the next day. Once the story has already gone to the presses, it would be too costly to start over again - even if they have the true story in the palm of their hands. It's a startling part of the movie, and it was jarring for me. Does this really happen in real life? Have there been newspapers who have intentionally printed a story that is untrue? While I'm sure it has happened, Frank Scandale, editor of the (Bergen, N.J.) Record, has a good point.

Deadlines in the Digital Age
Scandale explains that technology is changing the way a deadline works. I think today's journalism is very different from that of journalism in 1994. Only 10-15 years later, the internet has made it possible for journalists to correct their stories in realtime, blurring the lines of what we call a true "deadline." The internet is changing the rules of journalism. While I'm not sure that's necessarily a good thing, in the case of changing a story that is inaccurate, it is.

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