His conscience told him to quit the Sun-Times

Today was the day the syllabus said to read and discuss Chapter 10 in “The Elements of Journalism” in my Advanced Reporting for Print class at Cedarville University. The chapter is titled, “Journalists Have a Responsibility to Conscience.”

Last night I saw a Tweet by someone else that linked to this resignation letter:

As I read Dave McKinney’s resignation letter, I knew this would be a topic for class discussion today. If you aren’t familiar with the story, read the Chicago Tribune story about what happened that led to McKinney’s resignation from the Chicago Sun-Times.

In short, McKinney said he was removed from the Illinois state politics beat because of an unfavorable story he wrote about the Republican gubernatorial candidate. It wasn’t his editor who did this, it was much higher up the pay scale. He eventually got his position back. He said the deal was that his life would go back to normal, but it didn’t. So he resigned, saying the Sun-Times doesn’t have its reporters backs.

The Tribune story has more details and will help you understand the situation more clearly.

In “The Elements of Journalism,” Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel write:

… it’s part of the journalist’s responsibility to encourage a transparent and open culture that won’t allow critics to call the credibility of the product into question.

If everything McKinney writes is true (and there is no evidence to doubt him at this point), his conscience told him there is no transparency and openness. It tells him credibility has been undermined in the public and in the newsroom. It will be a long time before Sun-Times reporters with a controversial story won’t be looking over their shoulders.

The next paragraph from Kovach and Rosenstiel:

As a consequence, there is a final principle that journalists have come to understand about their work and that we as citizens intuit when we make media choices. It is the most elusive of the principles, yet it ties all the others together: Journalists have an obligation to exercise their personal conscience.

McKinney exercised his conscience because no one else would.

I make an analogy in class to this principle from Matthew 22:36-40. In this passage, Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment in the law. He replies that we should love the Lord thy God with all of our heart, soul and mind. Then he says the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments, Jesus says, hang all the Law and the Prophets.

Jesus is saying that if we are committed to those two big-picture commandments, we will know how to act and respond rightly in all situations.

It’s like that with the principle of personal conscience. If we have our journalistic ethics right, we will know how to respond when pressured into going against the standards and principles of journalism.

Journalism is an act of character. And, according to McKinney’s account, the acts taken against him did not reflect the character of true journalists.

I hope other newspapers are already forming a line to hire Dave McKinney.

If you are interested in at least a list of the principles from the “Elements” book, here they are:


Twitter: Why I like it and how it made my day

Twitter should be about so much more than how often you tweet, how many followers you accumulate and how many retweets and favorites you get. We all love those notifications, but today reminded me that the unexpected things are why I like Twitter.

Twitter is cool, like when a friend (even if he is a Michigan fan) spots you in an online photo when you are working an Ohio State football game and tweets it at you (that’s me in the green shirt standing behind Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman).

Twitter is breaking news, like when you’ve been so busy and didn’t realize the president just made a big speech.

Twitter is helpful to your job, like when you follow accounts that follow industry news.

And Twitter is inspirational, like when a radio station posts a song video and it blesses your soul. (This is the most unexpected part of Twitter and what prompted this blog post.)

Rich Mullins, a songwriter supreme, will be going strong on my Spotify the rest of the day.

Partnering with local media great experience for Cedarville journalism students

Developing partnerships with local media outlets for students to gain reporting experience away from campus takes time. When I came to Cedarville University to teach journalism in 2009, it was a primary goal.

In those first five years of the program, we averaged about one student a year gaining experience through an internship, practicum or freelance work in our local area. Finally, this semester we have nine students doing work for academic credit for outside agencies. Five of them are reporting for the Springfield News-Sun, two for the Xenia  Daily Gazette and two for the Athletes In Action website in Xenia.

These are great opportunities for our students to develop their journalism skills, to learn professional skills and to build their portfolios. And it’s great for the News-Sun, the Gazette and AIA because like all news and information businesses they don’t have the amount of staff members they once did.

This past weekend, two of our students covered weekend events for the News-Sun. Lauren Eissler covered the Fair at New Boston at George Rogers Clark Park in Clark County. And Kathryn Sill covered the CedarFest community church service in Cedarville. Anna Dembowski also wrote a story and took photos the Gazette for a CedarFest story about the Dayton N-Track club’s model train display.

If you are interested in learning more about the Cedarville journalism program, there is more information on the CU website or you can write me with questions by clicking on Contact on the side menu on this website.