Inspiring rules for journalists by PBS NewsHour's Jim Lehrer (RIP)

In the Aspen Institute's 1997 report on "Journalism and Society," PBS NewsHour co-founder Jim Lehrer, who died last week at 85-years-old, contributed the following wisdom:

I practice journalism in accordance with the following guidelines:

  • Do nothing I cannot defend.
  • Do not distort, lie, slant, or hype.
  • Do not falsify facts or make up quotes.
  • Cover, write, and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.
  • Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.
  • Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am.
  • Assume the same about all people on whom I report.
  • Assume everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
  • Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story mandates otherwise.
  • Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label them as such.
  • Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.
  • Do not broadcast profanity or the end result of violence unless it is an integral and necessary part of the story and/or crucial to understanding the story.
  • Acknowledge that objectivity may be impossible but fairness never is.
  • Journalists who are reckless with facts and reputations should be disciplined by their employers.
  • My viewers have a right to know what principles guide my work and the process I use in their practice.
  • I am not in the entertainment business.

"Jim Lehrer's Rules of Journalism" (Kottke)