Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Medill profs speak out

Sixteen faculty members at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism have released a public statement about dean John Lavine's controversial use of unattributed quotes in columns he wrote for the Medill alumni magazine:

Statement from the Medill Faculty
February 19, 2008

We, the undersigned members of the faculty of the Medill School of Journalism, are deeply troubled by Dean John Lavine's use of unidentified sources in his columns for Medill, the school's alumni magazine. We also are concerned about the public questions that have arisen regarding the ethics of attribution and sourcing, and commend the Daily Northwestern and columnist David Spett for raising these issues.

Public discussion about this matter has moved beyond the issue of a quote attributed to an unidentified student to a question of the dean's veracity, specifically whether the quote at issue was fabricated. Regrettably, much of this discussion has itself been anonymous, posted on the Internet by unidentified sources, an act that if predictable is nonetheless unprofessional. We speak publicly, and on the record.

The dean could, if he wished, put an end to what has become an embarrassment to Northwestern and to Medill. We call on him to do so immediately. As the Chicago Sun-Times said in a Feb. 15 editorial, "With his and the school's integrity on the line, the easiest thing for Lavine to do now is produce his notes or have the IT department retrieve that deleted e-mail to allay concerns over whether the unattributed quote is real."

This matter has become a crisis for the school. The principles of truthfulness and transparency in reporting are at the core of Medill's professional and academic mission. The dean's Feb. 14 memorandum in which he offered his explanation of events to Medill faculty is at best inadequate. It says that the quote at issue is essentially the same as that used by a student in an online video, and that the quote at issue is therefore a "fact." But of course the language used in the video is not the same as that in the contested quote, nor is the speaker in the video the unidentified source of the contested quote. Finally, the student in the video is talking about a different Medill class than the one that is the subject of the contested quote.

It is wrong to argue that the forum in which the questionable quote was used, the school's alumni magazine, is not subject to the same standards as other publication venues. Accuracy and truthfulness are non-negotiable requirements for any material prepared for publication in any forum, including in marketing and public relations. Indeed, the defense that Medill magazine is a public relations vehicle and therefore held to a lesser standard than other forms of publication is an insult to Medill's Integrated Marketing Communications faculty and staff, who are bound by the same Integrity Code, in all its particulars, as are the school's journalism students and faculty. As important, Medill magazine speaks directly to the many audiences to whom Medill owes its greatest fealty: students and alumni of the school's journalism and integrated marketing communications programs; our students' parents; the dozens of media firms around the United States and the world where our students take internships; donors to the school's academic and professional programs; employers and practitioners in both journalism and marketing communications. All of these audiences deserve a more complete accounting than the dean has thus far provided. We call on him to do so immediately.

Mary Coffman, Associate Professor
Douglas Foster, Associate Professor
Eric Ferkenhoff, Lecturer
Loren Ghiglione, Professor
George Harmon, Associate Professor
Sharon Kornely, Senior Lecturer
Craig L. LaMay, Associate Professor
Donna Leff, Professor
Arsenio Oloroso, Lecturer
Marcel Pacatte, Lecturer
David Protess, Professor
Larry Stuelpnagel, Assistant Professor
Mindy Trossman, Assistant Professor
Mary Ann Weston, Associate Professor Emerita
Charles Whitaker, Assistant Professor
Jon Ziomek, Assistant Professor Emeritus

The statement's cover letter to Dean Lavine:

February 19, 2008

Dean John Lavine
Medill School of Journalism
Evanston, IL

Dear John,

With this letter you will find a statement signed by several members of the school faculty concerning the news coverage of and commentary about the quotes you used in your Medill magazine columns. We are providing the statement to you, President Bienen and Provost Linzer several hours before we provide it to the news media.

The signatories to this letter have discussed how best to make our concerns known given the scope of this controversy. We have chosen to make the statement public for three reasons. First, this is not an internal matter but a public one. At this point, you have conducted an audio-taped interview with David Spett of the Daily Northwestern, two interviews with the Chicago Tribune, one on National Public Radio, and, most important, sent an e-mail message to the entire Medill faculty about the controversy.

Second, this controversy is not a faculty grievance and cannot be treated as one. If it were, the appropriate course of action would be first to request a private audience with you, with President Bienen and Provost Linzer. All the signatories to the statement believe that there should be such a meeting, and as soon as possible. But again, this matter is now very public. It is not an internal issue subject to the normal requirements of faculty governance.

Third, our students and alumni have thus far been left alone to comment on this troubling situation. We are journalism educators who have professional experience with and scholarly knowledge about the use of anonymous sources. To continue to keep our views to ourselves will justifiably be viewed as unacceptable by the young people we have taught and continue to teach. It would be unconscionable to maintain faculty silence on such a widely covered public issue.


Craig L. LaMay, Associate Professor
Donna Leff, Professor
David Protess, Professor



Anonymous said...

"Accuracy and truthfulness are non-negotiable requirements for any material prepared for publication in any forum, including in marketing and public relations."

Well, I think that's arguable. What about advertising? Whither puffery? In any case, the dean seems to view his own statements as, more or less, advertisements, and subject to all the "truthfulness" we've come to expect from ads. Understandable that the profs are insulted on behalf of Medill's PR people: he seems to imply that they're all basically copywriters.

Caitlin said...

Ah ha! You're right. It's nice to find more NU alumni through common blog entries! :)

Anonymous said...

I found this site using [url=http://google.com]google.com[/url] And i want to thank you for your work. You have done really very good site. Great work, great site! Thank you!

Sorry for offtopic

Anonymous said...

Who knows where to download XRumer 5.0 Palladium?
Help, please. All recommend this program to effectively advertise on the Internet, this is the best program!

Anonymous said...

Sale lotrisone 25mg himplasia Get keftab Order atacand Now myambutol 10mg zantac