Q&A: 'Hubris of Times worked against it.'

Prof. Loren Ghiglione is the Dean of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern. He is also the former James M. Cox Chair in Journalism, Emory University. Mr. Ghiglione was interviewed by csmonitor.com's Tom Regan.

What do you think the resignations of Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd mean for The New York Times?

That's complicated to answer, because it's hard to know what's going on. Mr. Raines has made a few enemies before the [Jayson] Blair situation. Perhaps he could have been more sympathetic to those staffers who had families. He did not have a bank of good will among the reporters and editors. So I'm not sure everybody was willing to cut him a break on the Blair situation.

As for the policies that led to the resignation of Rick Bragg, those policies predate Howell Raines. When I was at Emory in Atlanta, I had students who were doing work for Times reporters and not getting credit.

Given the culture of the Times, this was a necessary step. The Times had always resisted having an ombudsman. When many papers were taking part in the National News Council, the Times was editorializing against it. The paper has a tradition of being very protective of the powers of the editor. It seems the hubris of the Times worked against it in this situation. Perhaps if the Times was more open to examining possible mistakes and errors, maybe it would have been saved from its own mistakes.

What lessons should other journalists take away from this situation?

The need for humility. A state of mind about the craft of journalism. However good we are in our journalism, we have to be careful not to assume that we have a stranglehold on the truth. Another lesson is the public perception of what we do is often different from our own perception of what we do. I'm one of those people who are very upset by the polls that continue to show a declining trust in the public for the media. I think there is a lot of confusion in the public about what is a journalist and what is journalism? So we have to not only be sensitive to what we're doing, but also to the public's perception of what we're doing.

What are the ramifications for the media in the US from this incident?

Well, there are lots of papers that are already doing what the Times should have done. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, has a much more enlightened policy on crediting people who contribute to a story. You'll often see their names listed either at the top or the bottom of an article.

With all due respect to the Times, and I want to say that I really do consider it to be the greatest newspaper in the world, self-scrutiny has not been a part of its culture.

Do you think the Times can move beyond these incidents now?

Depends on what they do in terms of their policies. Take the question of sources, people contributing to articles. If the Times changes its policies to take care of these sorts of issues, then yes, it can. If the Times just hunkers down and becomes defensive, it won't change anything.

It's still important to remember that these are good people who got were they are by doing a very good job. It's not a happy day for those of us who work in the business.

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