Standard Deviations: Musings on integrity from a crotchety old journalist
Karma’s a b-word.
Just ask Marcia Brady.
You know, I’m not sure if it’s the winter or the fact I’ve been feeling under the weather, but I seem to be channeling my inner Crotchety Old Man lately.
When I started at the Standard-Examiner I was a 25-year-old sportswriter, fresh out of college and ready to change the world. At that time, the newspaper had a handful of reporters/editors nearing retirement, and they’d occasionally regale the cub reporters with their stories of the glory days of journalism.
And every once in a while — not often, mind you — I’d get the distinct impression these elder statespersons worried that the younger generation was going to ruin their profession.
Fast-forward 34 years. Today, the roles are reversed and I find myself one of two journalism fossils in a newsroom of twenty- and thirty-somethings. And while I certainly don’t believe this new crop of newsies will destroy the profession, they do have their moments.
It all came to a head on Thursday, culminating with this 59-year-old gray-haired idiot standing in the middle of the newsroom and wildly shouting at a bunch of wide-eyed young whippersnappers.
Recently, after an extended search, Standard-Examiner editors announced they’d found an education reporter to fill a spot that’s been vacant for a number of months. Newsrooms are already running lean and mean these days — ours is certainly no exception — and the hiring of a new reporter is always cause for celebration.
So it’s fair to say we were all pretty excited to be gaining another member of Team S-E.
And then, on Thursday morning, word came down that the reporter who’d committed to work for us had subsequently gotten an offer from one of the Salt Lake newspapers, and she was unceremoniously dumping us.
That news didn’t sit well with me. And after stewing about it most of the day, I finally exploded.
The explosion came late Thursday afternoon. After mentioning that I was still steamed about this woman accepting — and then reneging — on her intent to work for us, one of the younger reporters in the room said, “I don’t know, I don’t think she did anything wrong.” A second young reporter immediately chimed in with, “Yeah, I don’t blame her at all.”
Which is how I came to be standing in the middle of the newsroom, loudly lecturing my fellow journalists about things like integrity, fidelity and honor.
The outburst also afforded me the opportunity to tell one of my favorite jokes — the moral of which, I’m afraid, fell on deaf ears in our young newsroom:
A man asks a woman, “Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?” When she answers that yes, she would, he then asks, “Would you sleep with me for $50?”
Offended, the woman replies, “What kind of a woman do you think I am?”
Explains the man: “Madam, I believe we’ve already established the kind of woman you are. Now we’re just haggling over the price.”
In taking the side of this shameless reporter’s actions, my colleagues were basically saying that you always put yourself first in this world — that self-interest trumps any promises made to others. And sorry, but I just don’t understand that philosophy.
Maybe the problem with the younger generation is that they didn’t grow up on the same TV shows we older folks did. Because most of us learned the lesson that your word is your bond during Season 4 of “The Brady Bunch.”
In Episode 18, Marcia gets asked out on a date by Charley, a nice-but-nerdy kid in her class. After Marcia says yes, Doug Simpson (the hunky football player at school) asks Marcia out for the same night. So she breaks her date with Charley, telling him “Something suddenly came up.”
Dumping the nerd for the jock eventually comes back to smack Marcia in the face — quite literally — leading her to realize the error of her ways and confess to Charley that she played a “dirty trick” on him.
Fully acknowledging that my beloved Standard-Examiner is the nerdy kid in this scenario, the life lesson is nevertheless universally applicable. When you say you’ll do something, you do it. End of story.
It’s basic Humanity 101: When you agree to a date with one person, you don’t break it for a date with someone else — no matter how “hot” that second person is. And, at the risk of putting too fine a point on it, when you accept an offer to work at one job, you don’t break that agreement to take another job.
This is especially true in journalism, where integrity-above-reproach is the one characteristic reporters should cherish above all others. Because in the end, it all comes down to the million-dollar question: “How much is my integrity worth?” A million dollars? Fifty dollars? Something in between?
How we answer that question determines the choices we make when, like “The Brady Bunch,” something suddenly comes up.