Keep your credibility

By · Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Credibility is vital to journalists and their news organizations. That’s not news. But it is a valuable mantra worth repeating — often.

Consider this statement by Lucio Guerrero, former spokesman for Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, as reported in a New York Times story today: “Once you lose credibility, that’s the kiss of death.” Guerrero was talking about BP not being forthright about the amount of oil that spilled after an oil rig exploded in the gulf.

He said it well. One thing for us to remember, however, is that credibility does not apply only to major stories and issues. Every day, each of us is in danger of losing credibility in some way with someone.

Ask yourself these questions, to start:

Thinking about the loss of credibility can be scary because that loss can happen in an instant. It can happen when you are focused on a major story or issue in your life and don’t realize that something smaller is just as important. It can happen when your actions don’t necessarily match what you know so well — that perception is reality. It can happen when you let others dictate how you respond in a situation — especially when that response has you “stooping to their level” or “going along” because you want to avoid controversy.

We devoted an entire strategy to credibility in our book, “Think Like an Editor: 50 Strategies for the Print and Digital World.” The strategy deals with understanding pitfalls and avoiding them. It’s kind of like a video game: Obstacles keep coming into your path, and getting around them gets you more points.

Journalists face challenges every day. The objective is to meet those challenges and overcome them — and to do it while maintaining credibility. We all know how difficult that can be, and we must rely on our own good sense and on one another.

Emilie Davis


Your caveat on losing credibility is, well, incredulous. Specifically, you use too broad a brushstroke in producing examples of ways to lose credibility.

The word “credible” dates from the late-14th century, from the Latin “credibilis” (worthy to be believed). One who fails to respond promptly to an email may be lazy or preoccupied, but is he/she unworthy to be believed? Similarly, one who fails to follow up on a request may be undependable, but is that really a reflection of that person’s honesty, integrity or credibility?

Let’s not stretch the meaning of the word “credible” too far, for fear of losing credibility…