In case I have not been clear over he years, I think the essential practice of journalism is the discipline of verification (re: Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2001, 2007). Any communicative endeavor that would be called journalism by any persons who would call themselves journalists (pro or am) must be based on the discipline of verification: the checking and double-checking of facts with multiple sources.
There’s an old saw in journalism education used to hammer home this discipline:
If your mother says she loves you, check it out.
That assertion is a beautiful expression of the discipline because it 1) demonstrates its seriousness, and 2) disallows the shirking one’s responsibility even though the quality of the information may be obvious and/or difficult to verify.
This morning I read a Reporter’s Notebook column in the Springfield News-Leader from which we can tease another expression of the discipline. Not a replacement of the time-honored expression, but an attention-getter just the same.
If your grandmother says she was a bounty hunter, check it out.
And this is exactly what reporter Jess Rollins did.
Mags allowed her license to expire in 2005, a detail I learned from checking records at the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration. (I always check records of sources I interview but I admit a hint of guilt in checking out the validity of my own grandmother’s story.)
While he plays the line for a smile, I’d bet sawbuck that he actually did it.
You see, Jess was a student of mine at MSU. He took my introductory course. Now I don’t want to be making any claims of having much to do with his professional success. But I will say that I do try to impress upon all of my students in all of my journalism classes that the discipline of verification is the essential skill of journalism. If you want to be good, be good at that.
But more, if you want to do important work that fulfills the primary purpose of journalism, be good at that.
That primary purpose (also from Kovach & Rosentstiel): To give citizens the information they need to be free and self-governing.