Medill under the microscope

Very interesting story over on the other side of the Atlantic where I did my masters, read it on the Chicago Tribune website here.

For people who are unfamiliar with the Medill School of Journalism it has one of (if not the) best journalism programmes in the US. It prides itself on training journalists to report the facts of the story accurately and without bias.

While working on my masters I routinely had to hand in lists of sources full names and contact details to my editor/professor for spot checks. The use of anonymous sources is discouraged and can only be used in special cases. For example when I was using illegal immigrants in a story I was allowed to keep their names out of it, but all of their contact details had to be handed over to my editor.

However recently the dean of the Medill, John Lavine, used a quote in a piece of marketing material for one of the school’s more controversial programmes and he failed to attribute it to anyone. The very positive anonymous quote apparently came from one of the students in the class. However a journalist in the student newspaper tracked down all of the students in the class and none recall giving the quote…so it’s a bit of a mystery.

Lavine will not reveal the identity of the source and 16 members of the Medill faculty have come out saying they are ‘deeply troubled’ by the use of anonymous sources. A number of the 16 faculty members who signed the statement taught or edited me during my masters programme.

I find the this whole situation very worrying for Medill. How can the dean of the school be so at odds with its underlying ethos of transparency. Lavine needs to come out and give the name of the source and give proof that he did not fabricate sources or resign from the school before he damages it even further.

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