So here it is: I made a mistake. A big one and a bad one.
When I was a senior at the University of Nevada, Reno, the excitement of graduation and the impending freedom that loomed in the real world led a team of young journalists to write an ethics statement that would be signed by all graduates from the Reynolds School of Journalism.
As appointed chair of the Journalism Student Advisory Board, I researched, highlighted, consulted, debated and wrote, edited and presented the final statement to the school’s officials.
I was proud. The statement was simple: Do your job as a journalist in a manner that is honest, upholds integrity and mitigates harm to those you encounter. All qualities, I believe, that people try to achieve on a daily basis regardless of whether they signed a sheet of paper.
In the final stages of the ethics statement, and more than a couple dozen revisions later, I presented the statement to the journalism school’s faculty. I vividly remember the conversation that took place about a single word: compassion.
That part of the ethics statement said: “As a graduate of the Reynolds School of Journalism, I will uphold and apply the highest standards of integrity and ethics. This includes helping others by minimizing harm and showing compassion. As a graduate of the Reynolds School of Journalism, I will act independently and be accountable for my actions.”
More than half the faculty agreed with the use of compassion; however, professor Larry Daily made a valid argument for changing the word to empathy. I wish I would have listened.
The definitions of the two words only differ slightly, but empathy, for journalists, would mean putting more distance between you and a source, whereas compassion might allow you to become attached or affected by a person or situation.
Compassion I had and now suffer from.
In an article I wrote within the last week, I greatly messed up. I made a mistake that hurt a source. A source that I was deeply affected by when I heard their story. It is my fault and although I have apologized, my actions cannot be changed and the situation cannot easily be fixed.
I am taking accountability for my actions and learning from them. Lessons learned include proceeding from this point with empathy.
Cortney Maddock is a reporter for the Sparks Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.