The “Jimmy’s World” case shows how important it is for an editor to be critical of any and everything that comes before him or her. The story of Vivian Aplin-Brownlee, who doubted the story from its very beginning, stands out to me. She had the characteristics a good editor needs. She knew her reporters and the type of work they were capable of and she was vocal about her concerns. Had she not gone on vacation before the story was published, then history might have turned out very differently and we might not know Janet Cooke.
I think it’s important for journalists to learn from incidents like “Jimmy’s World” because knowing how to avoid and spot these occurrences helps preserve the integrity of our work. If a publication as large and credible as The Washington Post can fall prey to a scheme like this, then any news organization can.
One thing I always worry about is the task of maintaining accuracy in an increasingly digital world. In the rush to scoop a story or get on the web, I think we as journalists may end up chipping away at our accuracy and the integrity that being accurate brings. And this is why good editors are more important than ever. Every news organization need individuals who will scrutinize a story in order to make sure it’s suitable to be published because once it’s out there, it can never be taken back.
Some red flags I noticed in the “Jimmy’s World” story include:
- How had Jimmy’s habit gone unnoticed by teachers?
- Why would addicts be so open with a reporter and even go so far as to shoot up the boy in front of Cooke?
- How did she even find Jimmy? What led her to him?
- How did she get the family to agree to talk?
- Jimmy seems very articulate for an 8-year-old heroin addict who never attends school.
- In such a shocking front page story, why did her editor not ask to meet the boy or his family?