Letters

By , Donald Erickson, and Iris Kolberg-Scott

Setting an Example for Future Journalists

Regarding "Are Media Standards Drooping?" (Jan. 29): What really irks me about the drop in contemporary journalism standards is the offenders' inability to see that they're doing anything wrong. The star reporters and their cubicle-bound bosses may believe that standards have not been lowered, but American audience members know better.

Every day that the Monica Lewinsky story has been in the news, the public has been subjected to a tidal wave of secondhand, unattributed information passed off as fact. I have lost count of how many times I've been informed of something a certain person "overheard in conversation," "may have known," or "possibly witnessed." Most of these "facts" wouldn't be admitted as evidence in any courtroom - and yet in the rush to attain the celebrity status that comes with a "scoop," journalists feel compelled to continue shoveling what the public recognizes as gossip.

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The think-tank writer's comment that journalists are setting professional trap doors through which they cannot escape is correct. Breathless, moment-by-moment quasi-analysis of every tittle and tattle is establishing a tide that will lower all boats. Of equal or perhaps greater concern to me, the present "standard" of reporting is completely contrary to everything I'm trying to teach undergraduates in my classroom.

It is difficult to lecture effectively on the use of fully attributed sources when the standard practice, as demonstrated by correspondents who are much more famous than I and have salaries 20 times greater, seems to be "what the reporter heard from somebody who knows somebody else." Students not astute enough to discern the difference between the "right" way demonstrated in the classroom and the "wrong" way seen on TV and in the newspapers may find themselves confused when it comes time to enter the working world, where ethical choices have real consequences.

As journalism continues to stray from the professional accountability it owes its audiences, there are - and will continue to be - fewer and fewer intelligent, articulate students willing to lower their own standards by working in the mire that news has become.

Doug Swanson

Shawnee, Okla.

Assistant Professor of Journalism

Oklahoma Baptist University

Sanctions need time to work

Instead of "US Sanctions Fail to Bring Democracy to Burma" (Jan. 29), the headline on your article should have read "Constructive Engagement Fails to Bring Democracy to Burma."

Singapore is Burma's largest investor. It began constructive engagement with a shipload of armaments shortly after the military junta in 1988 slaughtered thousands while breaking up peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations.

Have over eight years of constructive engagement led to any improvements? Consider that both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch/Asia say the situation is as bad as ever, and each year the UN issues a stronger condemnation of the junta. Maybe we should give sanctions a longer period than eight months before we rush to judgment.

Donald Erickson

Chicago

Foreign languages in the workplace

Regarding "On the Job, It's English or Pink Slip" (Jan. 15): There is a solution here that is so simple it is almost ridiculous.

For 30 years I was fortunate to have had a wonderful lady for my mother-in-law. She spoke Norwegian as well as English, having immigrated to America as an adult. She and her many Norwegian friends spoke their native language by the hour if they so desired.

But she once told me that they wouldn't think of doing so in the presence of others. It wouldn't be polite, and might even seem unkind and uncaring.

Maybe "polite" has gone the way of some other courtesies, but little considerations serve to oil the wheels of communication and should lessen the necessity for confrontation.

Iris Kolberg-Scott

Plains, Mont.

Your letters are welcome. All letters are subject to editing. Mail to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, fax to 617-450-2317, or e-mail to oped@csps.com

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