The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, March 08, 2004

Des Moines Register editor and accuracy-mania

A suggestion of the wrong attitude to news quality control from Paul Anger:
The other day, a friend pointed out an error published a couple days previously in the Register. He was needling me, wondering if the newspaper "can get anything right."

He was probably startled by my defensive reaction. I said I was not happy with him for not telling me immediately about the error. We intensely - that's a safe description - discussed the situation.

I somehow sense that Anger - comment superfluous! - thinks that, with that story, he comes off quite the mensh.
Accuracy is no laughing matter to the Register.
he says, and few, having read his piece, will be disposed to disbelieve him!

He does mention the need
to offer accurate, fair, credible news and commentary.

But I get the feeling that accuracy just might be his real kick.

And accuracy is obviously important: nothing like the annoyance of seeing the eminently checkable stated wrong.

But that's the thing about accuracy: a lot of the time, it's easy to get right, easy to screw up, easy for the readers to make the pick, and easy to put right when they do.

Ombud columns are full of inaccuracies that have been picked up, corrected and apologised for. In some cases, to the extent of suggesting that dealing with inaccuracies has become a displacement activity.

The really hard problems arise with issues like the use of anonymous sources and the influence of third parties like government, big business [1] and the Catholic Church [2] over the content and presentation of news.

If, for example, a newspaper decides not to cover a particular issue because it knows that, if it did, its biggest advertiser might well take its business elsewhere, no question of inaccuracy arises.

Similarly, a paper might print a perfectly accurate description of a government proposal, and yet omit contextual information that shows that proposal in a completely different, and unfavourable, light.

A fixation with accuracy [3] would suggest dereliction of editorial duty, rather than the opposite.

  1. The Jane Akre/WTVT Tampa case (February 14 for instance; and the 60 Minutes/Jeffrey Wigand/Brown and Williamson case (February 14).

  2. The alleged extraordinary influence of Cardinal Roger Mahony over the Los Angeles Times (February 27).

  3. Which Anger may or may not have: a short piece like his would be an absurdly slight basis on which to judge such a matter. I merely use the piece as a stepping-off point for the general argument.

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