Pulitzer Platform: What It Means and Why It Matters
Margaret Wolf Freivogel
Louis Post-Dispatch Senior Editor/Sports and Features
of you will recognize the name Joseph Pulitzer because of the Pulitzer
prizes. But at the Post-Dispatch, we know Joseph Pulitzer because
he was our founder. And for a long time -- until 1986, in fact --
no one was editor or publisher of this paper unless he was named
Joseph Pulitzer. There
were three of them in fact.
birthday cake is in honor of the first Joseph Pulitzer, who was
born 153 years ago this month in Hungary. He came to this country
without money or connections. I'm not even sure if he knew English.
And by the time he died he was recognized as one of the most brilliant
thinkers and influential people of his age. Along the way, he created
this paper and the New York World. He also transformed journalism
in general into a powerful force for public good. There were a few
bumps along the road, by the way -- yellow journalism and the Spanish-American
War, for example.
into his career, Joseph Pulitzer repented of the extremes of yellow
journalism. He actually burned the giant wooden letters that had
been used to set some of the sensationalistic headlines into type.
And when he was retiring, he wrote something that has stood as a
beacon for journalists ever since. That is the Post-Dispatch Platform,
which you saw in our lobby and which we print on our editorial page
goes like this:
know that my retirement will make no difference in its cardinal
principles, that it will always fight for progress and reform, never
tolerate injustice or corruption, always fight demogogues of all
parties, never belong to any party, always oppose privileged classes
and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always
remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely
printing news, always be drastically independent, never be afraid
to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty."
words may sound a little archaic to 21st century ears. But if you
think about them carefully, you'll find within them a clarity of
purpose and a dedication to principle that is as inspiring as it
is demanding. This is no warm, fuzzy mission statement. This is
a tough task master calling us to a lifetime commitment. He's giving
us a goal that we
can always strive for but never really reach. More often than not,
this Platform will lead you right into the teeth of controversy.
Yet it seems to comprehend that the most serious threat to journalism
is not controversy but indifference.
challenge of these 82 words is as relevant today as it was in 1907.
Joseph Pulitzer calls us to stand up for the underdog, the outcast,
the unconventional idea and to fight for progress. He calls us to
stand apart from party, privilege or special interest -- to challenge
conventional wisdom and group think. That's what drastic independence
is all about. And he calls us to stand firm -- to ask the tough
questions, to insist on looking beyond the surface level of events
and to pursue the deeper meaning and significance of the news. That's
what "never be satisfied with merely printing news" means.
so as you enjoy cake today in honor of Joseph Pulitzer's birthday,
I invite you to accept this present -- this vision -- from him.
The topic of today's conference is change. Joseph Pulitzer's Platform
calls for change. But it is also a touchstone against which you
can measure the changes now underway in journalism and in the world.
I urge you to do that -- to temper the impulses of the moment with
the wisdom of experience. And when you hear the name Pulitzer --
on Monday and in the future -- I hope you'll remember not only the
prizes but the Platform as well.
Executive Explains Push for Ethical Credibility
distrust of the media led Gannett to establish a five-point ethical
statement that all editorial employees must embrace, the company's
director of reader credibility told nearly 200 journalists and journalism
students meeting in St. Louis Saturday morning.
Kozdemba, director of NEWS/2000, cited studies by the Freedom Forum,
the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Pew Trust showing
that the public distrusts and dislikes the media. A Freedom Forum
poll showed that 88 percent of the public thought the media uses
illegal or unethical methods to obtain stories, Kozdemba said. An
ASNE poll showed that 80 percent of the public believes the media
sensationalizes the news, she said.
our First Amendment freedoms are at risk," Kozdemba told participants
in "Change Happens," a combined regional conference of
the Society of Professional Journalists held this weekend at the
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Conference Center.
wanted to let the public know they practice good journalism, Kozdemba
said. Its newspaper division's Principles of Ethical Conduct for
Newsrooms was developed in brainstorming sessions that drew on staffers,
executives and outsiders.
principles state that Gannett newspapers are committed to:
and reporting the truth in a truthful way.
the public interest.
said that 5,000 Gannett employees have participated in ethics training,
and that employee response has been universally positive. Employees
are required to sign off on the ethics principles yearly. Feedback
from the public has been mixed.
say, 'It's about time' while some are skeptical that any real change
will occur," Kozdemba said. One letter writer said, "thank
you for finally admitting the press has been unethical," Kozdemba
member of the audience asked Kozdemba how Gannett would react if
it received government documents that it was not authorized to receive.
Al Cross, a political reporter at Gannett's Courier-Journal in Louisville,
replied that if the documents were genuine, newsworthy, and accurate,
journalists "have an ethical responsibility" to report
on them. But Cross said newspapers should not encourage anyone to
break the law.
added that the motives of the person supplying the documents should
also be evaluated. Kozdemba said she hoped that the Gannett program
would help turn around public perceptions of the media. She said
she was optimistic about the print media, but pessimistic about
the broadcast media's ability to give up its "sweeps mentality"
and embrace new guidelines of ethical conduct.
One member of the audience cited the number of movies that portray
reporters as an aggressive, unpolite pack.
agreed such movies affect the public's perceptions, and said she
hoped someone would make a good movie about the media. "But
then I heard someone was producing a movie on Janet Cooke,"
she said, rolling her eyes.
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