Nicholas Stahl

Want To Be A Great Journalist? Have the Values Of A Boy Scout

Ken Doctor poses many questions in his Newsonomics article about the values of journalists. The most enticing to me was this:

“Increasingly, though, I’ve come to believe that we can’t rebuild local news capacity until we’re more clear about our 21st-century values. What might we include in those values?”

His answer to this predicament is a multitude of things. Specifically, he references the things an individual learns in kindergarten, the four principles of journalism, and an assortment of the Boy Scout Law.

This really struck me. I was a Boy Scout. I started as a Cub Scout and finished as an Eagle Scout. I spent over 13 years of my life trying to be devoted to such ideals.

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 12.18.36 AM
My best friend Justin and I at our Eagle Scout court of honor. It was very cold.

Doctor states: “Maybe a few additional ones [values] can be borrowed from the Boy Scouts: being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, thrifty, and brave.”

Although Doctor only referenced the parts of the Boy Scout law, I believe stating both the law and the oath will be beneficial to getting a whole sense as to what being a Boy Scout really entails.

The Boy Scout Oath:

“On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

The Boy Scout Law:

“A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.”

For 13 years, these two passages rang through my ears during troop meetings, Order of the Arrow retreats, and weeklong campouts. It was a state-to-action and a way of life to live by. It still is.


This should come as no surprise. As a Boy Scout this is working well as a troop; setting up camp, relying on your Senior Patrol Leader for the right guidance, and making sure the “buddy-rule” is always enforced.

As journalists, this holds the same stakes. Trustworthiness takes effort, care, and patience. In this volatile media landscape, we have to rely on one another. There needs to be a level of accountability established. As the article suggests, this accountability seems to be lacking more than ever.

This NiemanLab article about why people don’t trust the news finds that 67% of people cited bias, spin, and hidden agendas as the predominant reason why they do not trust what they read.

Trust is hard. It takes time. I did not trust everyone in my Boy Scout Troop initially. Through time, encouragement, and cooperation there was eventually a profound sense of dependability within one another. No more “fake news.” No more “alternative facts.” Just trust.


As a Boy Scout, this was crucial. One of the the most formidable and exciting things about becoming an Eagle Scout is the Eagle Scout Project. It is arduous, exhausting, and painstaking. I had to plan, fundraise, and build something to benefit the community to some capactiy.

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 1.02.23 AM
My friends and I constructing my Eagle Scout Project.

However, it was impossible to do it alone. I had the help of loyal friends, patient troop leaders, and my loving family. Without the help of all of them, it most certainly would not have gotten done.

One of Doctor’s concluding points in his article is the ability to identify allies. He states “Meryl Streep’s Golden Globe call-out for the Committee to Protect Journalists (now even more necessary, as six journalists have been charged with felonies related to Inauguration Day violence) boosted CPJ donations 140 times normal.”

Maybe the one thing the media needs to thrive is a helping hand. Whether this helping hand comes in the form of public subscription, a news media companion, or a famous actress calling-out a certain committee; it all helps. Help comes in many forms and, now more than ever, we might need each other.


Being a Boy Scout takes a significant amount of bravery. In my experience, this came in many forms. Swimming to the bottom of a murky lake for a merit badge was definitely one instance I remember fondly. Sometimes it might be as simple as calling out an individual in the troop for something offensive he might have said. Bravery can be nuanced and can be explosive. Journalists need to exemplify both.

One of my favorite quotes by Jordan Belfort (I know, not the most exemplary candidates for ethics) goes, “Without action, the best intentions in the world are nothing more than that: intentions.”

Doctor says something strikingly similar. He states, “Make no mistake, it’s not the adoption of a values-based mission that’s essential. It is acting on these values that must now define news media.”

The media doubling-down on the core the media and the people established is not easy. It takes bravery. It takes intuition in fighting for what is right.

Boy Scouts was and always will be an incredible part of my life. It would be hypocritical for me to say that I have always lived my life strictly by their values. But I know it has made me better being surrounded by them.

Restoring the public’s current state of mind on the media will be hard. There’s no denying that. It will have to be a long, careful, and meticulous journey. Much like my path to becoming an Eagle Scout, journalists will have to abide by a set of core values. It might be the only way to save the state of the media.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s