Editorial: Journalism is at a crossroads — and a thank you to Scott Pelley

Scott Pelley live from Hofstra University for the first presidential debate on Sept. 26, 2016. Photo: Michele Crowe/CBS (c) 2016 CBS Television Network. All Rights Reserved.

The fork in the road is always the one that forces us to make a decision. Often we delay making tough decisions — until that moment

Recently, Darien’s Scott Pelley ended his run on on the CBS Evening News. The coveted 6:30 p.m. news hour at CBS was journalism royalty, as it were. Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather — and others. It was the place you turned in your hectic life — it was the turnpiece between day and night. It was upon what you could rely in the chaotic world.

Here was your update, here was all you needed to know for the day, to get you through tomorrow.

Mr. Pelley took that position seriously. In 2011, when he first took over the job, he told The Darien Times he could have never imagined being behind that influential news desk — but he was honored to be there “with the best journalists in the world.”

His goal was at the time and remained so when he spoke to The Darien Times again earlier this year — to keep bias out of the news, which he called “abhorrent” in 2010.

• Pelley: There is no democracy without journalism

“There’s no place for that in journalism,” he said.

By many unconfirmed news reports that came out before Pelley’s sign off last Friday, the motivation behind his exit from Evening News and exclusively to 60 Minutes —  was ratings driven. Whether or not that is the case, the ratings game plays a huge part in the media’s moves, and how the “media” is viewed.

But what is the difference between media and journalism? Is there one?

“Media covers a lot more than journalism. Media is everything, it’s opinion, it’s entertainment, sports, anything that is disseminated among the wider population, you can call media,” Pelley said to us.

Another recent discussion of journalistic ethics was prompted by Megyn Kelly’s interview with the controversial Alex Jones. Is that “media?” Or is that journalism? Kelly admirably took President Donald Trump to task during his campaign — and one could argue that increased her notoriety. Kelly has shown she isn’t afraid of controversy — and as a woman, she isn’t afraid of male hostility. There is an argument to be made, though, about interviewing Alex Jones. Was it simply for ratings? Or was it necessary for the common good and knowledge?

We as journalists are at a crossroads. Are we ratings driven? Are we the vultures many say we are? Or is it better to be right than first? An interview like Alex Jones can easily be dismissed as ratings hype. Are ratings more important than the truth? Than the need for our work to better the common good?

The last time we interviewed Mr. Pelley in January, we  asked him where we, as  community journalists, in the face of constant cries of “fake news,” should find ourselves.

“I think journalism has never been more important to the country than it is right now,” he said.

“There is no democracy without journalism, and the quality of our democracy depends entirely on the quality of our journalism,” he said.

We are at a crossroads — we all have time for the truth above all, ethics above eagerness, and to report the news, as Mr. Pelley said, without “fear or favor.” We are only as strong as our weakest link. No reporter’s influence is too small, no decision is too late.  Let us all take the road less traveled — the truth may be hard, but it is right.

In 2010, Pelley told The Darien Times it was his hope that after every one of his news broadcasts, the viewer would say, “That was worth my time. I learned something.”

As he closes out his time behind the Evening News desk, we say to Mr. Pelley — Thank you.

That his time there was well-worth our time — that we learned something.

As he said in closing comments Friday night — goodbye, and good luck.