Sunday, March 26, 2006

They throw up their hands, then wring them.

Four or five years ago the New York Press was one of the better weekly reads in the city. The old writing corps - the ones who almost all had a bit of an edge with little pretension, and whose pieces I mostly wanted to read beyond the first graf no matter what their political persuasion or subject matter- they've been gone for a while. And Steve Weinstein provided me with yet another reason not to pick up the The New York Press on a regular basis. Factchecking isn't an important part of the Press' editorial process:

It's SW commenting on the Nick Sylvester brouhaha at the Village Voice (a weekly that, with a couple of exceptions, I'm sorry, has mostly bored me beyond tears forever despite its storied history). When Weinstein says that editors can't be held responsible when their reporters fake the news, I've got to ask, what is the point?

I had to laugh especially loud when he bemoaned the Press' inability to hire fact-checkers - because they can't afford them. Ummmm - ain't getting the facts right kind of a basic principal of the practice? If your readers can't trust you to make a reasonable effort at accuracy beyond trusting your reporters, why should they read your paper at all when they can visit the fiction section of B&N? Since Jayson Blair, lots of publications have come up with ways of tracking their reporter's work, for example, with random deep fact checking missions. The Press is a WEEKLY even. It's not like they've got a phalanx of ambitious cub reporters in the city room clamoring for A1 and shoving supposed scoops in Weinstein's face at 2 am every morning, or whatever time of day those types clamor in the metro editor's face. And Weinstein is a BOSS, right? That means oversight rests with him, and he takes responsibility - or should - when something goes wrong.

This reminds me of the Times' internal report on the Blair fiasco. You read more, it seems, about how embarassing it was for the paper than what a betrayal to its readers it was that all those editors allowed Blair to continue writing. I don't think it's idealistic or unrealistic to expect level A pros to step back and just say they're responsible, and figure out how to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Lewis Lapham wrote an an essay in the July 1981 issue of Harpers called Gilding the News, about the Janet Cooke incident at the Washington Post. Cooke won a Pulitzer for a story about herion-addicted kids. After the prize, we learned that the lead character in the peice, Jimmy, was a composite of several characters, and that Cooke lied on her resume. Gilding The News still holds up today and it's still a better piece about what's wrong with journalism than any other commentary I've read since Blair, Glass, or Sylvester. I'll dig around to see if it is online.

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