Oral Histories

Gene Foreman

Interview Segments on Topic: Accuracy and Fairness

Gene Foreman Biography

Gene Foreman joined the Penn State faculty in 1998 after  retiring from The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he managed newsroom  operations for more than 25 years under various titles—managing  editor, executive editor and deputy editor. He also was a vice  president of the company.At Penn State, he was the Larry and Ellen Foster Professor from 1999  until his retirement from full-time teaching in December 2006. He  taught courses in news editing, news media ethics and newspaper  management. In 2003, Foreman received two awards for excellence in  teaching in the College of Communications—the Deans' Award and the  Alumni Society Award.
His textbook, "The Ethical Journalist: Making Responsible Decisions in  the Pursuit of News," was published in fall 2009 by Wiley-Blackwell.

Foreman spent 41 years in newspaper journalism—not counting eight  summer jobs in high school and college, or his carrier route before  that. He was the managing editor of three different newspapers: the  Pine Bluff (Ark.) Commercial, the Arkansas Democrat in Little Rock and  The Inquirer. Also during his career he worked as a reporter and  assigning editor at the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock, as a copy  editor at The New York Times, and as the senior editor in charge of  news and copy desks at Newsday on Long Island.

He was president of the Associated Press Managing Editors in 1990 and  was a board member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors from  1995 to 1998. He has been a presenter at the American Press Institute  and the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, and was a Pulitzer Prize  juror three times. In 1998 he received a career achievement award from  the Philadelphia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Transcript

Interviewer: I guess it makes newspapers look sort of ponderous, slow, overcautious, and worse, maybe protective of the reputations of newsmakers. Why aren’t they telling us this? They must be trying to protect themselves. I think many of them came up around here when this Penn State running back, Austin Scott, this was a really striking day in the Collegian when the two stories, same size, headlines on the two separate stories; one that had to do with an unnamed suspect in a rape case, and the other that Austin Scott was suspended from the team. I remember going into one of my classes and a couple of students who were Collegian sports staffers, and they said those two stories are connected, that Scott is the rape suspect. So there was all this admirable restraint by not overtly stating that, but of course as you’re saying out in the blogosphere, there is just whispering going on and if everyone’s talking about it, well the reason he’s suspended from the team, is that he’s the rape suspect in this other case. So it’s the issue of what do you do about rumors? When everybody’s talking about something, how do you keep it quiet? It’s a tough one.

Foreman: Yeah, it is. I think that you have to be very careful and I think that if Scott is suspended from the team, that is a news story. If he’s not charged with the rape, I think it’s harmful to him and dangerous to you as a business to risk naming him without more evidence, or in absence of any kind of statement from the prosecutor that I’m going to charge Austin Scott tomorrow with this rape. My lawyers have told me that that’s OK, even though they haven’t charged. But I think that we’re at a disadvantage, but a disadvantage of our own choosing. We want to be responsible, and I think that ultimately we’re going to lose some stories. We’re not going to be able to tell stories immediately as well as we would like. But I think that that restraint is a good idea. So I think that rumors you have to limit to what kind of effect do the rumors have, but also being careful not to rationalize it. We really want to report the rumor, but we’re saying that because something has happened, that we can now say that it’s a story, even though the rumor remains unproven. It’s about as difficult as any decisions that we have to make. I think the overriding factors ought to be that we want to be fair. We want to balance, minimize harm with truth telling. We want to be actually sure of truth in what we report.

Interview Segments on Topic: Accuracy and Fairness

Gene Foreman Biography

Gene Foreman joined the Penn State faculty in 1998 after  retiring from The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he managed newsroom  operations for more than 25 years under various titles—managing  editor, executive editor and deputy editor. He also was a vice  president of the company.At Penn State, he was the Larry and Ellen Foster Professor from 1999  until his retirement from full-time teaching in December 2006. He  taught courses in news editing, news media ethics and newspaper  management. In 2003, Foreman received two awards for excellence in  teaching in the College of Communications—the Deans' Award and the  Alumni Society Award.
His textbook, "The Ethical Journalist: Making Responsible Decisions in  the Pursuit of News," was published in fall 2009 by Wiley-Blackwell.

Foreman spent 41 years in newspaper journalism—not counting eight  summer jobs in high school and college, or his carrier route before  that. He was the managing editor of three different newspapers: the  Pine Bluff (Ark.) Commercial, the Arkansas Democrat in Little Rock and  The Inquirer. Also during his career he worked as a reporter and  assigning editor at the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock, as a copy  editor at The New York Times, and as the senior editor in charge of  news and copy desks at Newsday on Long Island.

He was president of the Associated Press Managing Editors in 1990 and  was a board member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors from  1995 to 1998. He has been a presenter at the American Press Institute  and the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, and was a Pulitzer Prize  juror three times. In 1998 he received a career achievement award from  the Philadelphia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Transcript

Gene Foreman - Accuracy and Fairness, June 2009