Jeff Jarvis on The Spiegel Scandal

A good take from Jeff Jarvis on the scandal at one of Germany's flagship The Spiegel following the revelations that the news magazine's top reporter, Claas Relotius, was a serial inventor of stories - a fraud.

He was the CNN Journalist of the Year in 2014, "Earlier this month, he won Germany’s Reporterpreis (Reporter of the Year)", and numerous other "prestigious" journalism awards.

Needless to say, but worth noting for those who are not journalists, every journalist is award-winning and prestigious these days.  

In journalism, the story too often becomes a self-fulfilling creation.  Early in my career at the Chicago Tribune, I watched a managing editor  write a headline — complete with victim and drama — and then direct his  investigative task force to go get that story. I worry when I sit in  journalism classes and hear talk of getting quotes to fill in “my  story,” with the emphasis on the reporter’s control of the narrative. I  dislike that our process too often starts — in newsroom and  classroom — with pitching a story people will want to read.


I hear journalists say their primary role is as storytellers. No. I  hear them say their task is to fill a product — a newspaper or magazine  or show. No. Our job is to inform the public conversation. And now that  we can hear people talking and join in with them, I’ve updated my definition of journalism to this: to convene communities into civil, informed, and productive conversation.


Relotius  has already returned his four awards from the German Reporter Forum and  some are questioning the value of such awards. That is another long-held heresy of mine: that our Pulitzers are bad for American journalism as they  motivate us to impress each other, more than to serve the public. Of  course, that’s not always the case, just too often it is.
“What happens when an industry is characterized by its vanity?” asks a headline in the trade publication Meedia, admitting it freaks out at the profession’s “rampant prize-giving fever.” Meedia says a portal for journalism prizes — its existence says much — counts more than 700 trophies awaiting winner.