Photo By David Robert CNN’s Jeff Greenfield spent some time last week lecturing to UNR journalism students and answering their questions.

CNN at UNR
Last week, CNN political analyst Jeff Greenfield tried to teach a lesson to UNR journalism students that few reporters seem to know.

He told the students that “knowing that not everything was invented yesterday is a big help” to reporters.

Gullible journalists frequently refer to events or developments as “the first this” or “the first that,” often based on claims by publicists or advertising agencies who make it all up. It’s a particular problem in Nevada, which is a job jumper’s market in journalism, where few reporters stay long enough to have the institutional knowledge to correct the claims.

During the battle over saving the Mapes Hotel, for instance, hotel supporters often made extravagant claims for the hotel that were repeated by journalists. A news story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and a column in the Reno Gazette-Journal reported that the Mapes was “the first hotel built in the United States after World War II,” which was not true. The Mapes was also described as the first hotel/casino, which also was untrue.

When a municipal ice rink opened in Reno, it was described in TV news reports as “Reno’s first ice rink,” which was not true.

Once these claims get into print, they go into newspaper morgue files, where they are used as reference material, so the original, inaccurate claims get repeated.

UNR journalism professor Jake Highton says it was a good lesson for Greenfield to pass on to aspiring young reporters.

“Check, check, check. There’s a cliché in the newspaper business—if your mother tells you she loves you, check it out. It seems to me it’s essential to do your homework; get the facts so you’re not taken advantage of by flacks.”

Greenfield said one of the difficulties of dealing with journalism students in 2004 is that “we can’t tell you what kinds of jobs in journalism there are going to be” because the field is changing so fast. As an example, he pointed out that Web logs (blogs), which didn’t exist until recently, are now creating self-publishing journalists who make a living just writing their stream-of-consciousness thoughts on the issues of the day.

Greenfield also got a huge laugh when he spoke of the difficulty of reporters gaining credibility with people in the United States who believe in UFOs but think the moon landing was faked.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...