Sunday, June 1, 2003

Once a role model, Blair now a fraud

By Melvin Mooring II
Guest Columnist

From a friend several states away, I heard the news and assumed that this infamous reporter from the New York Times was someone I didn't know.

At the mention of his name, I recalled my high school guidance counselor comparing me to a recent graduate. He'd make a great impact, she said when I spoke of my passion for journalism. My counselor allowed me to call him from her office. My peers and school faculty members would compare me to him. Our writing styles and career goals were totally different, but most believed the best influence for one young black journalist was another with more experience.

It's no wonder I began comparing my achievements and my failures to those of Jayson Blair, even after graduating from Centreville High School in Clifton, Va.

A role model

The name Jayson Blair, which now sparks notions of plagiarism and debates about diversity in the workplace, used to be the pinnacle of journalism success to me. While I was developing my skills at Howard University, Jayson was making a name for himself.

However, in the past few weeks I've realized that all that glitters is definitely not gold. My disappointment grew as I heard more of Jayson's escapades in the news. I stopped looking at Jayson as a model for any young black journalist. Instead I saw him as a fraud, comparing him to other infamous lying journalists such as Stephen Glass, of The New Republic, and Janet Cooke, of The Washington Post.

As quoted in the New York Observer, Blair said, "I don't understand why I am the bumbling affirmative action hire when Stephen Glass is the brilliant whiz kid, when from my perspective - and I know I shouldn't be saying this - I fooled some of the most brilliant people in journalism."

The answer: He is a young black man.

A step backward

Diversity in the newsroom brings to the table different perspectives of the same story. As an ambitious young black journalist, I don't see Blair's situation as an affirmative action case. This is a severe step back for any ambitious young journalists.

"Younger journalists have to be mindful that you have to give more than 110 percent, especially after this Jayson Blair incident," Jason T. Smith, a young black reporter for the Miami Times, said.

What Blair doesn't understand is that his decision to perform unethically and dishonestly affects the rest of us. Whether he was hired and "coddled" because he was black is not the question. The question is will readers and proprietors of this scandal believe it is an affirmative action dilemma. Will editors now second-guess hiring a young black journalist to a position of even mild responsibility?

Whether Blair - or any other black journalist - realizes it, we can have an impact on other black journalists. "As a black journalist, what I do at a newspaper will affect the larger talent pool," Smith said.

From Blair I've learned how much impact black journalists have on one another. From his situation I have seen the difference between learning in a newsroom and growing in a newsroom.

In a way I guess my counselor was right. He has had an impact on me.


Melvin Mooring II is a page designer on the Enquirer's news desk.

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