One of the great journalists from a bygone era died today at the age of 85. Jim Lehrer covered many major events over his career, including the JFK assassination and the Watergate hearings. He had a list of nine tenets he followed that I wish every journalist followed. This one especially, which, sadly, is more relevant in 2020 than ever: “I’m not in the entertainment business.”
It’s a pretty awful time for journalism–constantly under attack, most astonishingly by the commander-in-chief, yet the institution doesn’t do itself any favors, especially in the broadcast realm. Lehrer should be revered. Here are his nine rules…read ’em and weep for humanity.
- Do nothing I cannot defend.
- Cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.
- Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.
- Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am.
- Assume the same about all people on whom I report.
- Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise.
- Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label everything.
- Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should be allowed to attack another anonymously.
- “I am not in the entertainment business.”