Journalism 101

hschupak@cahners.com

Edward R. Murrow must be spinning in his grave. What would the legendary CBS journalist—who set the standard for excellence in broadcast journalism—have said about the conflict diamonds segment of the network’s Feb. 18 episode of 60 Minutes ? The segment, better suited to a supermarket tabloid than a so-called respectable newsmagazine, was rife with opinion and half-truths unabashedly spin-doctored and presented as “facts.” (For a detailed report about the program’s content, please turn to Up Front, page 23.)

Murrow, who reported on the London blitz from ground zero during World War II, chronicled the plight of migrant farm workers in the seemingly prosperous America of 1960, and exposed the two faces of vigilante senator Joseph McCarthy, was and still is regarded as the ultimate broadcast journalist. But as the 1960s progressed, he grew increasingly at odds with CBS producers and executives over the ethics of pure, undiluted reporting versus the commercial considerations of entertaining viewers, boosting ratings, and making more money.

Obviously at CBS, commercialism has won, because the 60 Minutes diamond episode reached the nadir of responsible reporting. To call it “entertainment” would be hideously morbid, but to call it “journalism” would be ludicrous. Journalism is about getting comment from both sides of an issue—a principle taught during the first week of any basic journalism class—but this report did not include a single comment from even one industry leader.

David Kuhn, editor-in-chief of Brill’s Content, the media industry’s own watchdog magazine, observed in a recent editorial that members of the press aren’t held accountable for their actions in the way that doctors, lawyers and, yes, even politicians, are. How well we in the jewelry industry know this!

The general media’s opinions to the contrary, our industry is working hard and fast to stem the flow of bloody diamonds in the marketplace. We must accept responsibility for our actions—or if appropriate, our inaction—regarding conflict diamonds or any other humanitarian issue facing our industry, but we do not have to accept false and slanderous accusations of not doing our part when we are. It’s time to let the media know we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!

Following the report, I sent a letter to Leslie Moonves, president of CBS Television, expressing my outrage as a journalist at the program’s lack of responsible reporting. Even as I sent it off, I received a faxed copy of a letter written to CBS by long-time AGS jeweler Joseph C. Gittings of Ford, Gittings, & Kane, Rome, Ga. When I called the store, the firm’s secretary, Jan Fergerson, told me some frightening things about how the issue is hitting home for them. Both a local Methodist newspaper and a local college (Berry College, Mt. Berry, Ga.) have taken on the conflict diamond issue, and the school is encouraging its students to boycott diamonds altogether.

Ford, Gittings, & Kane is doing everything right: Managers have told all of the store’s suppliers that they won’t purchase conflict stones, they’ve held several meetings to discuss the issue with store employees, and they’ve urged the American Gem Society, of which the store is a member, to help. (AGS is helping, says Fergerson.)

“Misinformation is spreading faster than we can cope with it,” Fergerson says. She feels the issue has hurt the image of jewelry in general more than it’s hurt business so far, but for her, it has hit home twice. A few customers have begun to ask store employees about the issue, and Fergerson’s daughter—who attends Berry College—is getting grief about diamonds from fellow students.

Joseph Gittings’ letter captured the essence of many jewelers’ reasons for staying in this industry—history, honor, and love. He correctly pointed out that diamonds (and De Beers) have brought prosperity to millions of miners and workers, and that we as an industry are not sitting idly by in the conflict issue. My own letter focused on the lack of ethical, balanced reporting rather than the particulars of De Beers’ involvement in conflict diamonds. All of these points and more need to be made.

Say what you will, but please say something—and make sure you give the other side a chance to answer.