In response to my previous post about the Jonah Lehrer affair, a reader emailed: "I don't think people expect writers or journalists to take their jobs seriously anymore. The standards have just degraded that much."
Au contraire! Speaking as someone who has practiced journalism long enough to have witnessed the alleged decline, I'd say standards for accuracy and honesty are higher than they used to be. It isn't that journalists are of better character now than before; it's just that, as various people have noted over the past 24 hours, journalists now live in a transparent world, where fact-checking is crowd sourced and happens in real time. That can keep you on your toes.
It's amazing, looking back, how well-insulated journalists used to be from correction. Consider this true (I swear!) story from my days as a pre-internet journalist:
I had written a very long piece for a magazine you've heard of, and one of the people who had come off unfavorably in it wrote a long letter complaining about various aspects of the article. In my reply--which was to be run in the next issue along with his letter--I managed to parry all of his points except one; he had indeed caught me in a (very minor, IMHO) factual error, and I admitted as much. When I opened the next issue of the magazine I found that my admission of error had been deleted--as had the part of his letter where he noted the error! I was surprised though not gravely disappointed.