A couple of years ago, I had this fireball of a student named Morgan Cook. She was smart but sometimes a little hard to control. For example, in reporting on the troubles some people were having at a local mobile home park, she ended up having to hide in the bathroom of a source’s trailer. Long story.
Yep, she scared us sometimes. But she did good journalism because she didn’t give up easily.
This week, Morgan got a shout-out from Slate for “terrific journalism” she did, digging into the data and debunking assertions about oxycontin abuse in the county where she is a reporter. The piece is as good as Jack Shafer says it is. He’s a media critic who pays very close attention to the general sloppiness of the mainstream media. (Maybe you want to follow him on Twitter.)
Why am I talking about this? Beause I haven’t said enough yet this semester about healthy skepticism — the art of shutting off the uptake valve and giving outselves enough time to discover for ourselves whether something is true, or not. Government officials don’t always tell the truth. Sometimes, what we’re given is PR, or an unverified assertion.
In journalism, the most important question might just be: How do you know that?
And then there’s data — beautiful data — to help us find our way to the truth.
Raise one eyebrow. Keep it raised.