Thursday, April 7, 2011

Even the Best Fall Down Sometimes, But it isn't O.K. in Journalism

TJ Carolin

"Even the Best Fall Down Sometimes"

This quote taken from Howie Day's Collide, a 2004 adult contemporary single that rose as high as number 14 on the U.S. Billboard Pop 100 Chart was the first thought that came to my mind when I was shocked to learn that a sports writer I know and respect had committed a huge ethical error in April 2005 with his Detroit Free Press article, Longing for Another Slice of Dorm Room Pizza.

Mitch Albom, an author I have come to respect not only as a great sports journalist, but also a great storyteller, decided to assume events would take place at the Michigan State/North Carolina semifinal NCAA basketball game and write about these events without clarifying them. Albom went against basic journalism ethics code by making assumptions and pulling quotes from other sources without citing them when he wrote that former Michigan State players Jason Richardson and Mateen Cleaves were in attendance at the game, when they actually had never attended.


This especially shocked me because Albom is not only an excellent sports writer who I enjoy reading and listening to on ESPN, but is a bestselling author with two feel-good and morality-themed books that I have personally read and enjoyed. The first, Tuesdays With Morrie, was the best-selling memoir of all time and spent four years on the New York Times bestselling list according to his bio.  The second is titled The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Both books were very enjoyable for me to read as they touched on life lessons and its ups and downs, but moreover they gave me the feeling that Albom was an honest, credible, purposeful, and skillful writer.

The title, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, is an indicator as to what type of person I thought Albom to be. Ultimately, reading his books and sports work made hold Albom in high regards, but by finding out that he slipped up this one time, it made me want to question everything I had ever read by him. Although we are all humans and all make mistakes, being a journalist and holding responsibility for your mistakes is a whole different ballgame. Albom was disciplined but able to save his job, most likely because of his successful career and reputation, but he has tarnished his journalistic reputation quite a bit in my mind. He broke basic rules and basically lied by publishing this article, and this has been taught to me at Scripps to be 100% intolerable.

I have learned that even the best writers may feel tempted to take shortcuts for whatever reason, but it does not make it acceptable or right. If I eventually become a successful writer such as Albom, someone I looked up to a lot more before, I will make sure not to repeat the same mistake, because in journalism a second chance is not always guaranteed.

Here is Howie Day's Collide just for listening pleasure.

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