Thursday, September 30, 2010

‘Jimmy’s World,’ 30 years after

When “Jimmy’s World” appeared on page A1 of The Washington Post on Sept. 29, 1980, the simple but deeply moving power of the story by Post reporter Janet Cooke was undeniable. Cooke’s report on Jimmy — an 8-year-old heroin addict living in the nation’s capital, a boy schooled in the how-to of addiction by a drug dealer acquaintance — riveted The Post’s readers, the nation and, ultimately, the Pulitzer Prize advisory board, which awarded Cooke the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in April 1981.

What happened next — the unraveling of what was an outrageous fiction and, at least briefly, the undoing of the reputations of The Post and the Pulitzer brand — was a cautionary tale for American journalism. Cooke returned the prize two days later, shortly before resigning from The Post after admitting that most of her story was contrived. The fabrication (the first in the history of the Pulitzers) reverberated in the industry for months afterward.

Now, 30 years later, the “Jimmy’s World” incident still has a tragic resonance for black and minority journalists still struggling to find a place in the nation’s newsrooms. For today’s black journalists, many of whom weren’t even born when the incident took place, “Jimmy’s World” is a learnable moment. ...

Read the rest at theGrio

Image credit: Janet Cooke: pbs.org.

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