‘I Am Not in the Entertainment Business’ and Other Rules of MacNeil/Lehrer Journalism

BY Dave Gustafson   December 4, 2009 at 11:15 PM EST

Signing off of Friday’s broadcast, Jim Lehrer outlined the journalistic mindset that has driven the program for 34 years and will continue to guide it when its fifth iteration relaunches Monday as the PBS NewsHour:

JIM LEHRER: People often ask me if there are guidelines in our practice of what I like to call MacNeil/Lehrer journalism. Well, yes, there are. And here they are:

* Do nothing I cannot defend.

* Cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.

* Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.

* Assume the viewer is as smart and as caring and as good a person as I am.

* Assume the same about all people on whom I report.

* Assume personal lives are a private matter, until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise.

* Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories, and clearly label everything.

* Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes, except on rare and monumental occasions.

* No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.

* And, finally, I am not in the entertainment business.

Here is how I closed a speech about our changes to our PBS stations family last spring:

“We really are the fortunate ones in the current tumultuous world of journalism right now. When we wake up in the morning, we only have to decide what the news is and how we are going to cover it. We never have to decide who we are and why we are there.”

That is the way it has been for these nearly 35 years. And that’s the way it will be forever. And for the NewsHour, there will always be a forever.