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name: Alicia
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Thursday, May 20, 2004

[Please allow me my naivete]

Imagine this, if you will.

You are a journalism student, at some art college. Oh, I don't kow, let's just call it Columbear. So you are assigned a kickass Media Ethics paper and you decided to do it on Jayson Blair. You spend weeks trying to solicit a response from the Public Editor of the New York Times, whose entire job description is explaining stuff about Blair to people, to no avail. You are not daunted.

You decide to email the Chicago Bureau Chief, Jodi Wilgoren, figuring she is more accessible. You ask her 5 very detailed questions, with all the appropriate research and sources cited. You wait.

From an employee of this completely professional newspaper who has a lot to answer for already, you receive a response. You asked her, do you think you'd be willing to answer these questions I've included below? She answers, using no capital lettering or signature through her New York Times email account:

"you know, i think i'm going to pass."


At first I thought perhaps this was a joke. But I rechecked the email address, which was listed and later sent to me by the New York Times. This is a professional journalist, this is how they behave. Frankly, I'd rather have received no response at all. Is this how people in the real world do business? Is this all it comes down to, cynicism and selfishness? The same day I received this curt answer, I also finally received responses from the public editor's office who, unlike her, condescended to reply to me respectfully and answer my questions. I am pretty sure their work load is a little heavier than hers, so I fought back:

Ms. Wilgoren,

I will quote you in my piece as saying this. The Public Editor's office had the courtesy to reply to these questions with detailed responses. I will forward your reply to me to them as well as a reflection of your commitment to professionalism in Journalism.

Alicia Dorr

I don't know if I've ever been so astonished. Usually attitudes and situations like this don't blindside me, I can at least see them coming. I must have scared her, because she responded:

You think questioning my commitment to journalism is a good way of pressuring me into answering your questions? I don't think this is a matter of courtesy. This is a question of appropriate roles. The Public Editor is the reader's representative at the paper and has this as a major part of his portfolio. I do not speak for the newspaper or anyone but myself, and it is not really up to me to give responses to issues at the newspaper.
That said, your tactic has some effect. I will answer some.

And then she did.

Congratulations, Jodi, you don't work for anyone but yourself. So hopefully you're ok with doing that if you say something like this to the wrong person and it gets you canned. I don't really have the energy to even ask why she didn't just say this in the first place, insteading of first asking me how she could help in a previous email. That would require logic, and sense. Two things I thought journalists were responsible for keeping.

But I'm wrong about a lot of things. When I was small I always got so angry with my mother for saying "You should be ashamed of yourself." How did she know what I should feel? Was she really right, or was it a matter of perspective? Well, from this girl's perspective Jodi Wilgoren, a full-grown working journalist, actions are rather "inexcusable", to quote one of her answers to a question regarding Jayson Blair, the questions that were so goddamned painful to answer.

I understand that people don't always play nice, and that sometimes it takes a tug of the hair to get someone to react. I understand that people are busy, and I detailed that in my request for her comment. Clearly she was not too busy to engage in a petty assertion of authority behind the keyboard. Really cool. Five other professional journalists have had no problem commenting on my questions, and I don't think it was out of line to ask her.

I see it pretty clear from the words on the page, no amount of eye-rubbing will change them. I want to live in my safe world where this couldn't happen. But I can't. And eventually I'll have to accept just how ugly people really are.

And you bet your ass I will put this in my damn story.

[It's innocence, the fashion of the day]

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