Journalism is a subjective business. Many of us have our own specific idea of what journalism means. For me, it's very simple: I am not the story, so never make myself the story; in most cases, I have no opinion; always report the facts, not speculation, rumor, or unconfirmed guesses. I figure if I follow these three rules, I can develop a solid reputation as a trustworthy journalist.
I didn't know who Elliotte Friedman was until Thursday night. He was calling Olympic swimming for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Friedman told Sports Illustrated that he only discovered he would be in that position two weeks prior to the games, and he had never called swimming before.
During the 200 meter individual medley, Friedman says he paused so that CBC could show the Brazilian fans cheering on their swimmer, and when he looked back down at the pool, he mixed up Ryan Lochte with Michael Phelps, as the two were swimming side by side. This led to a moment that's gone viral, as Friedman called the race as if Lochte was running away with a victory down the stretch.
“I’m not gonna lie to you," he told Sports Illustrated. "I believe that there is a certain standard that’s required to broadcast the Olympic Games. I don’t even feel that badly for myself. I feel badly that I let my network down. That’s the thing I feel the worst about.”
(Read the si.com artictle here)
Friedman also says in the article that 12 hours after the mishap, he hadn't eaten or slept. He's apologized numerous times to numerous people, and won't, under any circumstances, place the blame on anybody but himself. He won't use the fact that he had never called swimming before as an out, he won't throw any directors, producers, statisticians, or production personnel under the bus. If somebody else gave Friedman any wrong information, we're not about to find out about it. He is quick to say that the blame lies with him, and him alone.
Thank you, Elliotte Friedman.
Thank you for caring about your profession, the facts, and the truth so much, because more and more, it seems lost. I learned in college that you could be fired for reporting a factual error, and quite frankly, I wish the standards were much higher for people in our business. I'm not saying I'm perfect. I've made plenty of mistakes. But, like Friedman, you're supposed to kick yourself and, to a certain extent, beat yourself up a little bit for making them. This is an age where "journalists" can make numerous factual errors a day on social media and it's dismissed as normal. That's a problem.
Friedman made his mistake on the biggest stage in the world, and in this day and age, one may conclude he could've nonchalantly shaken it off, not worried about it, and gone on about his day. He could've offered a half-hearted apology to his superiors to keep himself out of trouble and brushed it aside. He didn't. He apologized wholeheartedly, didn't make any excuses, and he will be all the better for it. By all indications, Elliotte Friedman is a widely-respected, widely-liked journalist in Canada, and he's earned the right to make a mistake here and there. His reputation will even better due to the way he handled his error.
This is a world where more and more personalities tend to portray the "look at me" style. It's an era where a guy like Stephen A. Smith is considered by some to be a journalist. This is a time that sees experienced veterans in our field laid off, some replaced by cheaper, younger, less-experienced, more mistake-prone candidates who are trying to get those social media posts up so fast that facts often suffer (no, I'm not saying social media is bad. When used properly, it's a valuable tool).
My point is that Elliotte Friedman is refreshing, and 21st century journalism needs more people like him. He's a professional that I hope is used as an example to follow and emulate. Don't take after a guy because he's loud and attention-grabbing for all the wrong reasons. Learn from a person who, in his lowest moment, demonstrated the highest of standards.