Credibility: A finite resource you can’t afford to squander
Here’s a great tip from NPR: Hold on to your credibility.
That’s the headline on a story on NPR.org earlier this week about the circulation scandal at the Wall Street Journal Europe.
Whether you’re a media giant like News Corporation, Wall Street Journal’s owner, a blogger with a few dozen readers or somewhere in between, it’s good advice.
Really, it’s the only advice that matters, because if you don’t follow it, nothing else you do is going to amount to anything.
The Wall Street Journal Europe circulation situation is a little complicated and not nearly as shocking or interesting as News Corp.’s other ethical mess this year, the phone hacking scandal that killed the News of the World tabloid. The Journal is accused of artificially boosting its circulation numbers in various unethical ways, which would have allowed it to charge more for advertising.
NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is paraphrased in the story saying, “As a news organization, it’s tough to restore credibility after it’s been badly damaged.”
That’s true as an individual as well, and I would say “tough” is understating it.
As a writer, you bring various things to the table: your ability to craft sentences, your knowledge of a subject or at least your ability to learn about it, your analytical skills. With any of those things, there’s no limit to how much you can keep improving.
But the one finite resource you have is your credibility. Once you’ve established that, all you can do is keep it or lose it. You can’t really polish it or build it up. There’s no such thing as more credible than credible. Once you start losing it, though, you won’t get it back.
The News Corp. accusations, in both the phone hacking and the circulation scandals, are all about shortcuts. Individuals take shortcuts too, whether it’s pretending they were somewhere they weren’t, stealing words from others or making up stories or sources out of whole cloth.
The good news, at least for readers, viewers and listeners, is that if you take shortcuts like this, you will probably get caught. Last week there was yet another case of high-profile plagiarism when Kendra Marr resigned from Politico after she was found to have stolen from the work of others.
That this keeps happening never ceases to amaze me. We’re living in the Internet Age. If you borrow someone else’s words and publish them someplace where people who are not your relatives might read it, you’re almost certainly going to get caught. Call me Ismael, but it seems like the smart thing to do is not steal from other writers.
Kendra Marr could spend the next 50 years doing nothing but honest work, and she’d still be Kendra Marr, the writer who plagiarized for Politico.
Shortcuts aren’t worth it. Even if you’re behind, or late, or don’t know what you’re talking about, or can’t get to where you’re supposed to be. It’s better to fail honestly then to stave off failure by cheating. Failure is temporary. Losing your credibility is forever.