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View Full Version : Carl Zimmer bemoans the Washington Post


Nate
02-21-2009, 05:20 AM
Carl Zimmer really does not like the lack of fact-checking present in some traditional media outlets:
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2009/02/19/the-sea-ice-affair-continued/

bjkeefe
02-21-2009, 05:35 AM
Carl Zimmer really does not like the lack of fact-checking present in some traditional media outlets:
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2009/02/19/the-sea-ice-affair-continued/

Thanks for that, and good on Carl for joining the protest. (If you're interested, I have gathered up links to a few other voices here (http://bjkeefe.blogspot.com/2009/02/lying-or-stupid-bowtied-twerp-edition.html), here (http://bjkeefe.blogspot.com/2009/02/more-good-will-hunting.html), here (http://bjkeefe.blogspot.com/2009/02/you-know-at-least-at-times-it-was-bill.html), and here (http://bjkeefe.blogspot.com/2009/02/will-not-correct.html).)

I liked the way Carl finished up:

Its easy to think of fact-checking as a luxury of old-time journalism, akin to three-martini lunches and business class flights. But if fact-checking is done right, it can make newspapers and magazines reliable and trusteda distinction that may help them survive in these competitive times.

I've believed this for years -- the biggest selling point the newspapers will have going for them in this era of media transitions is the quality of their content, same as every other site online. I wish they'd stop thinking exclusively in terms of cost-cutting.

Carl's earlier post (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2009/02/16/george-will-liberated-from-the-burden-of-fact-checking/) (if you didn't notice the link in the one you linked to) builds on this theme, and is also worth a read.

Also, I'd like the WaPo's weasel phrase, "To The Fullest Extent Possible," to become an Internet meme. ;^)

Nate
02-21-2009, 06:41 AM
Thanks for the links. I tend to agree that fact checking is one of the things propping up the newspaper industry at this point. Unfortunately, it is a bit of a prisoner's dilemma, as what is good for the whole is not necessarily in the self interest of an individual paper. I hope the hubbub surrounding this, though, will make some papers think twice before making any further cuts to the fact-checking departments.

bjkeefe
02-21-2009, 07:27 AM
Thanks for the links. I tend to agree that fact checking is one of the things propping up the newspaper industry at this point. Unfortunately, it is a bit of a prisoner's dilemma, as what is good for the whole is not necessarily in the self interest of an individual paper. [emph. added --bjk] I hope the hubbub surrounding this, though, will make some papers think twice before making any further cuts to the fact-checking departments.

Don't agree with the part I bolded. In competition between wapo.com and nytimes.com, say, a huge difference could well be how reliable the respective sites are considered.

I think "the most trusted name in news" and "fair and balanced" and similar slogans have been so robbed of meaning by the talking hairdos on TV that "we're more reliable" won't be much of a direct selling point. However, negative associations will be (already are) important. Think of how many people lost respect for the NYT after Jason Blair and Judith Miller, for example. The NYT understood that, and put a lot of effort into being public about exposing the messes, hiring an ombudsman (public editor, they call it), and generally, conveying the impression that they're eager to be corrected. Look at some of Bill Kristol's old columns, for example -- even these opinion pieces have prominent notices saying "correction appended" where pertinent. They did not have to be dragged kicking and screaming into doing this, either. This is a big differentiator between them and the WaPo, at least as far as this Will denialist column goes, at least in my opinion.

[Added] I don't think it's useful to think about these changing times in terms of the newspaper industry as a monolith. To be sure, they share concerns, and do at times display an us-against-them mentality regarding the blogosphere, aggregators, TV, and so on. But when you get right down to it, they are fierce rivals, to the point of sometimes biting off their own noses to spite their own faces. It's long been understood among politicians that if you don't want the NYT to do a story on some particular thing, the way to be sure they won't is to leak it to the WaPo or another paper.

What with nytimes.com having come a long way in terms of understanding the more blog-centric mentality -- e.g., a willingness to remark upon and link to stories on other sites -- they appear to have less of a complete NotInventedHere syndrome these days, so this may not as much apply anymore. Still, at least in the abstract, I think the example serves to illustrate my point that there's more competition than cooperation at play among newspapers.

Nate
02-22-2009, 03:57 AM
Yes, I suppose I agree to a point. However, in direct competition, cost matters as well. (also, lots of people do not follow these things as avidly as you or I, and would lump all papers in together as good or bad reporting and throw their hands up)

So, the metric becomes, does the competitive advantage of being seen as being a better fact checker outweigh the cost associated with paying people to do that job? People like Zimmer (and the other people you linked to on your blog) move the equation to the former instead of the latter, so they are (imo) doing excellent work.

bjkeefe
02-22-2009, 08:59 AM
Yes, I suppose I agree to a point. However, in direct competition, cost matters as well. [...]

So, the metric becomes, does the competitive advantage of being seen as being a better fact checker outweigh the cost associated with paying people to do that job?

Agreed. And unfortunately, the advantage gained by getting it right more often (or getting caught getting it wrong less often) is not immediately apparent, whereas laying people off looks like an addition to the bottom line that can be counted right away.

I have thought for a long time that it's a shame so many newspapers went the public ownership route, because it causes way too much emphasis to be placed on such short-term thinking.