"The best obtainable version of the truth"

For those embarking on a journalism career, certain iconic figures stand out as role models.

Probably the most famous are Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for their investigative work on the break-in at the Watergate hotel and office building, a story that followed a money trail and unveiled a cover-up that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

Since then, both Woodward and Bernstein have gone on to write numerous best sellers. Bernstein is also a contributing editor to Vanity Fair magazine. Recently, Bernstein was invited to speak at a public forum on journalism in Rome, a city he knows well from his days researching a book on Pope John Paul II.

During the forum, Bernstein said some things about journalism which provide a unique insight into the passion with which he has embraced his profession. His remarks offer useful lessons for those who are considering a career in the media, and also for consumers.

Talking about the shift of journalism from older models of media to the newer forms of communication, Bernstein reflected on the need to bring over the best of the old traditions. He defined good reporting as the process of communicating "the best obtainable version of the truth." A simple phrase, he said, yet "something very difficult to accomplish."

Bernstein went on to explain that in North America we seem to have created a "mythology" about media objectivity. According to Bernstein, reporting is not objective, but instead is "the most subjective of activities." This is because journalists and editors themselves decide what is news and what is not. Reporters collect facts and string them together to provide context. He stressed the need to do thorough research and present the facts in a responsible manner.

Bernstein has been at it a long time. He started working as a journalist in 1960 at the age of 16. Asked to share his thoughts about the profession, he offered this summary, on looking back:

What is we do? We're not here to be prosecutors. That's for prosecutors. We're not here to change the results of an election. We're here to present information about how we live and how our fellows live. We're here to describe our community, our government, our sports, our entertainment -- always with the idea of this best obtainable version of the truth, so that those who read us, see us on television, on the web, put their trust in what we do and learn which of us is worthy of that trust, which institution is worthy of that trust, which individual reporters are worthy of that trust, so that we can help people know things.

That's really all our job is: to help people know things, so they can make up their minds about what's around them. It's very simple. [But] it's probably the hardest thing you can do because there are so many ways to get it wrong, to take shortcuts. The bad part of the web is the pressure on us time-wise, to get it out there right away, right away, right away... without checking it out, without trying to see how one fact weighs against another and putting it into context."

I would say, particularly in the informational cacophony that we have today, that if I were a young person and I could do anything, this is what I would do.

Bernstein may inspire a new generation of journalists to rise above all the noise and make difference.

Photo credit:
Image by Larry D. Moore, used under a Creative Commons ShareAlike License. More info here.

If you dream it...

Here are some perspectives on the strength of the human imagination, from some notably imaginative types:

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see. " - Henry David Thoreau

"Live out your imagination, not your history." - Stephen Covey.

"I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." - Michelangelo

"Imagination rules the world." - Napoleon Bonaparte

"If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking. " - George S. Patton

(Patton always make me smile.)

Quotations are from brainyquote.com

Europe at the crossroads

Sergio Marchionne, the chief executive officer of automakers Chrysler and Fiat, was speaking to reporters recently and said something about the economic challenges in Europe that caught my attention. As we've been reading in the news, the concept of European union is at a critical stage. Talking about the looming debt issues, Marchionne made the observation that while both Europe and North America desire unity in their respective regions of the world, they've adopted separate paths towards that end. Europe, faced with many national differences, decided to first establish a strong shared currency (the Euro), hoping that the single currency and its benchmark economic requirements would eventually lead to political union. But those requirements of monetary union and the differences between national economies now risk tearing Europe apart.

Marchionne noted the North American model is different. Canada, the United States and Mexico first negotiated a free trade agreement. They chose to not bind national currencies together. The value of the currencies has been free to float. As a consequence, political union, if desired and possible, could be developed as a separate phase. Countries have been freer to pursue their own policies. Specific national economic issues to date have not been a grave threat to the agreement.

Financial observers say that many of the world's nations have been living too deeply in dept for too long. Now Europe faces significant social and economic upheaval, as Greece is forced to make great sacrifices to enact an austerity plan that threatens its social fabric. The global downturn of 2008-09 may only have been the first phase of a continuing crisis. All eyes are on how the European Union and the world's bankers are tackling the big challenges of this latest financial dilemma.

Der Spiegel magazine offers a detailed portrait of the economic situation in Europe. See Huge National Debts Could Push Eurozone Into Bankruptcy.

A seal and a ferry in the Strait

The seal was swimming in the middle of the Strait of Georgia, the body of water that lies between Vancouver Island and the mainland. The Strait is about 25-30 kilometers wide, and the seal was right in the middle of the channel, a long way from land. It simply popped it's head above water and watched as the large ferry headed directly towards it. I was on the deck of the ship looking down. Just as it seemed we would bear down on it, the seal effortlessly ducked under the surface of the water and swam a few meters off to the side and then popped it's head out again, whiskers dripping wet, and looked up at the deck as the ferry sped past.

This happened also with a different seal in another part of the same crossing we were making between Nanaimo and Horseshoe Bay on the mainland.

While many people on the West Coast are used to these types of encounters with nature, this is still marvellously new to me. It's a thrill to find other forms of life coexisting with humans. It always serves as a reminder that we humans are but one player on this stage, only one aspect of a complex ecosystem.

Standing there on the deck of this gigantic steel machine, an intruder in the ocean world, we had a connection, that seal and I, that lasted just a few seconds. We looked at each other; but it was a moment that linked us as living beings - partners - on this planet we both call home.