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Column: Trust me, I'm a journalist

Earlier this week a journalist friend of mine shared a link to a column that attempted to identify the 10 least trusted professions around. He slotted journalists at number nine, nestled between celebrities at No. 8 and police officers at No. 10.

This particular column doesn't seem to have a foundation any stronger than one man's opinion of what feels about right, but it could be a sign of a serious problem. This is a problem. If people trust journalists less than they trust people like Paris Hilton how can we expect them to take us seriously when we write about important subjects like Tiger Woods' sex life?

And even if this list is the closest most journalists will ever get to being compared favorably to celebrities, I have to admit the whole thing hurts just a little.

Journalists have certainly given people reason to doubt them. It seems like there's a new scandal every few years about a reporter who fudged facts, invented interviews or stole stories outright.

I have to admit I'm guilty on that count. Several years ago I published an interview with a local turkey that had become something of a local celebrity (and no doubt untrustworthy) for hanging out for most of the summer at an area intersection. I can admit now that I published that interview despite the fact I never asked that bird ONE SINGLE QUESTION.

Wow. It feels good to get that off my chest.

I've seen evidence of that mistrust even here in Farmington. I've been accused of being biased in favor of the school district and the city. I've also been accused of being biased against the school district and the city. Sometimes I've been accused of both biases for a single story.

It's hard to win the public's trust when you are simultaneously for and against everything. So, sure. I see where people are coming from.

Still, I feel like I need to stand up for my journalistic brethren. We're really not as bad as some people seem to think. In fact, I would suggest there is evidence in our favor that is at least mildly more compelling than some guy who said, "Hey, I need an idea for a column today."

According to a February, 2005 item from the USA Today, a study conducted by the Missouri School of Journalism and Louisiana State University found that journalists are among the most ethical professionals around. The study asked 249 print and broadcast journalists to respond to a standardized test designed to measure ethics. The journalists finished fourth, just behind seminarians, doctors and medical students with a score of 48.7 out of 100. Reporters scored ahead of nurses, orthopedic surgeons and dental students, who always seemed a little shifty with their pointy metal hooks and their plastic vacuums. Adults as a whole scored 40 out of 100.

The results are compelling. Then again, the test was done by journalists. And everybody knows you can't trust them.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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