Paul Greenberg

And neither is calling ourselves a profession. When the word is applied to inky wretches, it has an unavoidably counterfeit feel to it. I'd rather be just a newspaperman. Even the title Journalist sounds a little hoity-toity to me. I always picture somebody who writes for a quarterly, smokes a pipe and thinks a galley proof is a nautical term.

George Bernard Shaw once said every profession is a conspiracy against the laity; at its best journalism is a conspiracy on behalf of the laity.

The first ethical rule of political commentators, I tell the students, is: Know thyself.

Yes, I know that's not original advice. But it still holds. The opinionator should know what his convictions are, so he won't be blown this way and that by changing fashion. When he finds it necessary to alter or refine or deepen or abandon a conviction - the process is called growth - he should at least be aware of what he's doing, and maybe even why.

That's why he - or she - needs a liberal education, so he'll keep his bearings in the great whirlwind of just a little wheat and a whole lot of chaff that we call the news. So he can separate it out for the reader. (Adlai Stevenson once said a journalist is someone who carefully separates the wheat from the chaff, then prints the chaff. God, the truth hurts.)

Readers don't need to have their own mercurial feelings mirrored and magnified every morning, much as we all enjoy the experience. For a little while. Then it grows boring. And we begin to crave opinions other than our own, and search for insights that compel - instead of platitudes that just comfort.

A lapsed editorial writer here at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette named Chris Battle - he's now managing a gubernatorial candidate's campaign in Arkansas - once told me a story about his grandfather. It seems that, as a young sophisticate, he was once explaining to the old man that not all issues are black and white, that there are different shades of gray, that there's not always a right and wrong, yadda-yadda . . . .

To which his grandfather replied, "Son, there's always a right and wrong. You just have to find it."

Even if it takes time and effort. That's ethics. In and out of journalism.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.