Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Bad to worse?
Remember, the WSJ's actual newsroom editors (of which Calame was one) are of a totally different breed than the hacks who populate the opinion pages. The WSJ's newsroom has historically been quite strong and relatively free from editorial meddling.
Before we summarily convict Calame of hackery, let's look a bit closer:
From Press Council.org:
Barney Calame, the Wall Street Journal's deputy managing editor who oversees staff ethics and story quality, encourages reporters to read back quotes to sources to avoid errors being made, but warns reporters against making agreements with sources on the right to clear quotes before publication.
Barney Calame says that the editors at the Wall Street Journal, like all good journalists, insist on accuracy. "Some of the people we're serving sometimes make decisions on the basis of what we put in the paper. They shouldn't, but they do. We really feel that responsibility." As a result, the Journal's policy is to make corrections in print and on line, if anyone notices an error, whether or not there are complaints.
The Wall Street Journal's Barney Calame had a different spin on the questions of ethics. Legal problems are very real for the Journal, because what it reports is often demonstrably quantifiable in terms of someone's profit or loss. It was hit with the largest jury libel verdict in U.S. history, although the case ultimately was dismissed on appeal. The Journal, more than other newspapers, is cautious about establishing or publicising internal norms such as an ethics code. "We have an active program in place to discuss ethics on an ongoing basis with all of our reporters and editors, which we think just works better than a "code' that sits in someone's desk," Calame explains. "Dow Jones (the owner) actually has a published code of conduct, which is different than an ethics code, [one] that deals quite explicitly with financial conflicts of interest for all employees of Dow Jones. The publisher of the Journal wrote at some length on the code in the paper just last January."
And from the WSJ's parent, Dow Jones:
Barney Calame, deputy managing editor, who retired last month after a distinguished 39-year career as reporter, bureau chief and editor in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and New York, often has been called the "conscience of the Journal." The son of a minister from rural Missouri, Barney could be found most nights in the final hours before the paper went to press asking reporters and editors again and again how they knew what they had written was correct, whether they had given the subject of an unflattering paragraph enough time to respond, and whether they fully understood the motives of their sources. He helped design a seminar on journalistic ethics with two colleagues that he taught to all Journal and Dow Jones reporters around the world.
At Barney's retirement party a few weeks ago, managing editor Paul Steiger distributed a T-shirt emblazoned with the words, "What Would Barney Do?"; it will hang in the managing editor's conference room. As Barney helped all of us live up to the highest standards of accuracy and fairness, we will seek to keep his legacy bright by continuing to meet those standards. Alix Freedman, a senior editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, will assume Barney's specific role, but all of us at the Journal are similarly dedicated to assuring that our coverage is accurate and fair before it is published, and corrected promptly, if it isn't.
I would say, "Look to what Calame actually did in his first (or was it second?) act as ombudsman." He printed the Okrent-Krugman interchange without comment. My guess is we'll see that he's an expert ducker of issues.
As for the quotes you posted, I'm not sure what is so exceptional about not allowing a source to control quotes or printing corrections or asking reporters about their sourcing before going to print. Yes, those are good things to do, but as the quotes make clear, the Journal does them out of financial self-interest. Their readers, unlike Susan MacDougal, have the means to strike back.
If Calame was the conscience of The Journal, I'm sure they won't miss him.
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