The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
No fact-checking at most US newspapers: is that news?
Well, it was to me; but, then, that certainly wouldn't be news!
One of those things that I suspect is generally believed in Britain about American life by anyone who bothers about such things (not many) is that American newspapers have factcheckers, and British newspapers don't. This belief prayed in aid to explain, in part, the greyness of the American product and the gaudy unreliability of the British.
Your humble blogger had been under such an apprehension.
It's not true. Not according to a piece (via Instapundit) in the New York Observer (screwy URL) by Ron Rosenbaum (Two Minute Warning):
One thing many people don't realize is that magazines are far more likely to fact-check what they publish than newspapers and book publishers. Not all magazines maintain staffs of fact-checkers, but very few newspapers do (The Observer is one, thank God), and very few publishers as well.
And a piece from last September from Donald Luskin, who had the New York Times' Paul Krugman in his sights, says:
No one fact-checks Paul Krugman's column, or any other op-ed columns at the New York Times.
(He goes on to talk about the related topic of corrections at the Times.)
The point is that, in an editorial process, one may read a piece for all sorts of reasons; the mental attitude of a factchecker towards a piece would need to be quite different to that of a senior editor reading a piece to see how it blended in with the rest of its section, say.
Is there a list available of the American newspapers who do have a fact-checking department? How much does that sort of operation cost? Have the New York Times ever considered using one?
Veterans of the War of Jayson Blair's Armchair (I was a mere kibbitzer, in the style of the First Bull Run picnickers) will recall the august Siegal Committee, set up by the Times suits to produce recommendations for improvements; included is one , on orientation of new employees, to
give every employee a...briefing on accuracy, fact-checking and the importance of correcting mistakes...
On page 26, it says
Training in fact-checking should be mandatory for reporters and editors, especially new arrivals. Many reporters and editors are unfamiliar with the guidelines and procedures currently in place, and with the simple tools placed at our disposal by the Internet.
The quote underlines the fact that, at the Times, fact-checking is a DIY pastime; the references to the (archaically capitalised) Internet and its simple tools rather suggest the authors to be more familiar with the quill pen than the keyboard!
And  those are the only references to fact-checking in the entire document!
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