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Archive for May 27th, 2016

Einstein

One of journalism’s oldest clichés is that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

I had the desired initial reaction to the letter above, rejecting Albert Einstein for an associate professor position: I thought how cool it was that some pompous science professor with a Ph.D. after his name had been so condescendingly dismissive of the greatest modern scientific thinker.

And it was about when I was reading the last line, about Einstein’s thinking being artistic, rather than really about physics, that I wondered whether a Swiss professor would really be writing a German colleague in English. Snopes quickly provided the answer: No.

I’m not going to bother to embarrass the colleague who posted this on social media by naming him. He clearly has enough company that Snopes felt the need to check out the letter’s authenticity.

I recommend reading the debunking by Dan Evon. It’s a nice illustration of the various paths to verification you can use in any story. He found that the hoax was based on an actual fact: The University of Bern did reject Einstein’s initial application for a doctorate in 1907. But everything else was phony: the professor’s name and title, the letterhead, the language, even the image of a modern Einstein stamp.

You can repost interesting stuff like this on social media without checking if you want. And I’m not going to claim that I thoroughly vet every fun thing I’ve posted on social media. But social media, even personal accounts, are also good places for journalists to practice the skepticism that is the core of good journalism.

Especially if something seems too good to be true.

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This continues my series on professional networking.

One of the most offensive, discriminatory terms of the professional world is “the old boy network.”

I’ve blogged all week about the value of building and using a professional network to advance your career. But I need to acknowledge a sinister factor: The old boy network has long been a tool of racism and sexism, often unintentionally but still emphatically helping white men’s journalism careers to the detriment of women and journalists of color.

In Wednesday’s post, when I listed people whose connections have helped lead to jobs during my career, I certainly noticed that most were white men. To some extent that’s going to be true for most journalists, because white men are still disproportionately powerful, and the situation was more disproportionate in the 1970s, when my career started.

Some discrimination is intentional and inherently evil. But I think this aspect of discrimination is rooted in the fact that we all have natural affinities for people with shared experiences, and most people’s default settings will be to connect with people who share our own demographic experiences.

But diversity is important for the news business (beyond the fact that discrimination is wrong). If we are going to matter to diverse communities, we need diverse staffs and leaders. So journalists seeking to have successful careers, hire successful staffs and improve the news business need to make the effort to diversify our personal networks. And the truth is, as journalists we have extensive shared experiences on which we can build strong affinities, if we’re just honest enough to acknowledge those natural demographic affinities and let the professional experiences rule our default settings.

Effective networking that is diligent in preventing discrimination — except by such factors as experience, skills and work ethic — can be as effective in increasing diversity as the old boy network was in blocking it.

I’ve been aware of, and sometimes heavily involved in, efforts to diversify most organizations where I’ve worked. I encourage (and practice) efforts to diversify networks, and I know of women and people of color in leadership positions who have used their network connections to alert diverse candidates to opportunities and recommend them for jobs, somewhat offsetting the bias of the old-boy network (in which the word white was unspoken but very real). (more…)

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