The 2003 American drama indie film Shattered Glass may be viewed simply for entertainment by a number of individuals. However, through the eyes of a journalist (or a journalism student), it prompts a number of observations.
The film tells the story of a young reporter, Stephen Glass, who writes for The New Republic, a magazine that prides itself on integrity. Glass publishes a story titled “Hack Heaven” that discusses a teenager who hacked into a software company. However, Adam Penenberg, a reporter from Forbes Digital Tool, has doubts about Glass’s story and begins to research his claims. As the film progresses, we learn that Glass never attended a hacker convention as he said, but relied on sources for his story. His most precious piece of evidence is a website representing Jukt Micronics and a Palo Alto voicemail box. As it turns out, Glass’s brother, who lives in Palo Alto, was posing as the president of Jukt Micronics. After Glass’s editor discovers the truth about the story, he fires Glass and returns to his office. Looking over Glass’s past articles, he discovers most of his previous work was falsified.
While the film was entertaining and positively received, it is also a powerful reminder that a journalist’s job isn’t just to write, or to entertain. It is to present the truth. Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that “public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair, and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.”
While journalism may seem interesting, and harmless, it can put one at risk if the rules are overlooked. In the film Shattered Glass, someone like Stephen Glass could face serious charges because of fraud and false information. Deception, conflict of interest, bias, fabrication, theft, and ‘burning a source’ are among the seven deadly sins in the journalism world. Quotes and sources must be cited. The opinion of the writer shouldn’t leak through the story.
From a personal perspective, journalism can be difficult. Assumptions cannot be made. Facts are not taken lightly. Personal opinion cannot be revealed through the written word. Simultaneously, the story should be interesting, entertaining, and bring readers in. Creativity is a great part of journalism, but certainly not everything. Because so many rules go into journalism, many writers may break rules without even meaning to, simply because facts and truth are difficult to present with such intensity.
When journalists fail to present the truth as it is, miscommunication is fabricated. A Gallup poll in 2013 showed that 21 percent of respondents said that newspaper reporters had “high or very high honesty or ethical standards”. When people’s personal opinions or lies are printed as truth, individuals are left not knowing who or what to believe. Many people rely on the printed word. They want to accept it as truth. It is extremely important for a journalist to be honest and industrious in their work.
This article was written by McKenna Vietti, a writer for dusk magazine.