P. 1
Ben Coulter: Janet Cooke & Jimmy's World

Ben Coulter: Janet Cooke & Jimmy's World

|Views: 237|Likes:
Published by clemwork
Class presentation
Class presentation

More info:

Published by: clemwork on Sep 09, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as DOC, PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less





Ben Coulter JOUR 481 Case Study Presentation

Janet Cooke / Jimmy’s World In 1981 a young reporter from The Washington Post named Janet Cooke forfeited a Pulitzer Prize for fabricating an eight-year-old heroin addict in a front page story about drug abuse. The credibility of the story , “Jimmy’s World”, was questioned from the beginning, but the editors at The Washington Post stood behind Janet Cooke because they believed she was telling the truth. The trust relationship between a reporter, an editor and the readership of the newspaper is the cornerstone of professional journalism, and Cooke betrayed that trust. The incident was a major embarrassment for The Washington Post, and ended Janet Cooke’s career as a journalist. Obviously, the story should never have run with the fabricated, composite characters. Even though Cooke was told her sources would not be questioned, she should have been prepared to reveal their true identity. This is vital information that must be kept on file by the journalist in order to protect the newspaper. But Cooke was so desperate to climb the chain of command that she gambled on her career and lost, and although The Washington Post survived the ordeal, Cooke’s integrity as a writer was gone forever.

Janet Cooke took the confidentiality of her sources for granted. Perhaps she would have been more careful had she known her story would generate overwhelming sympathy across the city for her character, Jimmy. Cooke mistakenly assumed that no one else would want the identity of her sources when her editor told her the newspaper would not reveal their names. As a general rule, reporters need to keep close record of their sources because their credibility is only as strong as their word of what someone else may or may not have said. Instead of having the courage to tell her editors the character they wanted simply did not exist, she simply took the easy way out by giving them exactly what they wanted. She gave in to the pressure to produce a sensational story by making up one that was too good to be true. The composite character slipped through the system because of a young woman’s ambition and an editorial board that was hungry for a dramatic story. Cooke claimed she had been threatened by the live-in boyfriend of the boy’s mother, and editor Milton Coleman promised her anonymity for her sources. She used direct quotations from eight-year-old Jimmy, his mother Andrea and her boyfriend Ron in the piece about the rising drug problem in Washington DC. The information from the Drug Enforcement Agency, city medical examiner and rehabilitation specialists, combined with vivid descriptions of the dire situation of drug abuse in Jimmy’s home, made for a compelling story that immediately sparked a public outcry across the city to find the boy and remove him from the situation. The story fell apart months after it was published when

discrepancies concerning Cooke’s resume arose in her biographical information for the Pulitzer Prize, and Coleman confronted her along with editors Benjamin Bradlee, Howard Simons and Bob Woodward. Cooke could have, and should have, come clean before the story went to press. She was warned by Coleman to be prepared for a subpoena because of the stories’ graphic detail and unsettling subject matter, and was given a ‘last chance’ to withhold the story. Even when Coleman told Cooke she could very well face jail time for not revealing her sources, and asked if she wanted to proceed, she stuck with her story because it was front page material. But prior to that point, Cooke still had ample opportunity to explain the situation to her editors. Although the story may not have been as compelling without a “real” character, the dramatic setting of the mean streets of Washington DC was all too real. The editors may not have saved the piece for the front page, but Janet Cooke could have saved The Washington Post the embarrassment of publishing a fabricated story, as well as her job. Honesty and integrity are the life blood of professional journalism. Communities will not follow a news source, be it print, radio or television, unless they believe the material presented to them is true. Once a writer crosses the line between fact and fiction, he or she has become a novelist instead of a reporter. Journalists and reporters are the gatekeepers for the

vitally important system of communication between people, cities, states and countries, and their integrity sets the standard for generations to come.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Banville, L. Background Report: The Janet Cooke Case. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bradlee/background_cooke.h tml Cooke, J. (1980, September 28). Jimmy's World. The Washington Post, A1. http://www.uncp.edu/home/canada/work/markport/lit/litjour/spg2002/c ooke.htm Green, B. (1981, April 19). The Washington Post, A12. http://academics.smcvt.edu/dmindich/Jimmy%27s %20World.htm M a r a n i s , D . ( 1 9 8 1 , A p r i l 1 6 ) . Post Reporter's Pulitzer Prize Is Withdrawn. http://academics.smcvt.edu/dmindich/Jimmy%27s %20World.htm

You're Reading a Free Preview

/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->