At a time when integrity is in short supply, particularly among politicians, but also in the media and other once respected institutions, the recent action taken by journalist Steve Collins is not only admirable, but surprising.
Collins, whose parents live in the Lehigh Valley, resigned Christmas Eve from his position with The Bristol Press, a Bristol, Conn., newspaper, to protest a plagiarized article of questionable authorship placed in the paper by its new owner, Michael Schroeder.
Schroeder is the manager of News + Media Capital Group LLC, a shell company of Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate.
Announcing his decision in a Facebook post, Collins wrote: “The owner of my paper is guilty of journalistic misconduct of epic proportions. … Journalism is nothing if we reporters falter and fade. We are doing something important and men such as Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Adelson — no matter how much money they can toss around — cannot have their way with us.”
The plagiarized article which proved to be the last straw for Collins was critical of a Nevada judge who has challenged some of Adelson’s business dealings. It ran under a fake name that turned out to be a combination of Schroeder’s own middle name and his mother’s maiden name. Collins had worked for the paper for more than two decades.
It turns out that the article came from the Las Vegas newspaper which Adelson had recently purchased.
For me as a journalist, Collins’ action is awe-inspiring. It reminds me why journalism, despite the fading influence of newspapers, is still important. The tawdry actions of Schroeder are in sharp contrast to another awe-inspiring story, told with dramatic clarity by the recent movie, “Spotlight.”
“Spotlight” is the powerful true story of the group of Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the actions – or inaction – of the higher-ups in the Boston Catholic church in response to the molestation of children by priests.
Good newspapers, and conscientious reporters, have always tried to speak truth to power, and to report objectively and honestly the actions of those in both the private and public sector, regardless of where that reportage may lead.
While I acknowledge I have never, in my decades as a journalist, uncovered a major scandal, I have always tried to be objective and to keep my opinions on the opinion page, not in my reporting.
But I have never, thankfully, found myself in Steve Collins’ position, working for an owner, a publisher or an editor whom I cannot respect. I don’t know if I would have had the courage he has shown if I had found myself in that position, particularly if, like he, I had been the primary breadwinner of my family, with two kids in college.
As I have here, I’ve asked myself often whether I would have been brave enough to stand up to injustice, from racial discrimination in the South to Nazi persecution of Jews in the 1930s.
I’m sure some of you have asked yourselves the same questions. Maybe Steve Collins has too. But now he knows the answer, and he can truly be proud.