The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
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."
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  and the Catholic Church  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  would suggest dereliction of editorial duty, rather than the opposite.
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