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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Friday, April 02, 2004

At last, an editor who understands

The Financial Times [1] has a piece (April 1) by Martin Kalb on the US news media post Blair/Kelley.

I'd say he doesn't really get it: no mention of anonymous sourcing, for instance. His idea is that the problem is chasing after celebrity for the sake of profits. And it can't be denied that that's part of the problem.

Yet the bad journalism I've focussed on here - and generally the stuff criticised in the likes of Campaign Desk - is not that kind of story. It's the opposite of sexy, catchpenny, tabloidy hackery. Its manipulation is so dangerous because the subjects are so worthy.

But he does have a quote from Sandra Mims Rowe, editor of the Portland Oregonian, in which she hits the bull point:
Editors have the responsibility - it's in their job description - to be the most sceptical reader there is. When that slips, there is real danger.

It's a point I made on March 23 in connection with Jack Kelley.

The fact is that there is enough available copy in the world to fill the WaPo dozens of times over. The editor's primary job [2] is keeping stuff out, not getting stuff in. The editor is the Abominable No Man. Or should be, if he's doing his job. Every piece, however simple, however impressive the byline, he should be wondering, What's wrong with this?

He should be getting eyes on the copy: hungry interns, grizzled old hands [3] with a wealth of experience and a bit of time to spare. He should be picking nits and attacking premisses. Making the journos justify the confidence he needs before putting their piece in his paper.

The impression that I'm beginning to form - from a very short period of taking a detailed interest in these matters - is that there is plenty of good writing around; a fair amount of solid journalism; but a grave shortage of effective editing.

  1. Which, according to Ken Auletta's key piece on Bush and the media (on which subject there's a piece fermenting), is one of seven papers that Scott McClellan reviews first thing each morning in dead-tree form. The others: NYT, LAT, WaPo, WSJ, Washington Times, USA Today.

  2. Editorial coups like the Toledo Blade's Tiger Force series - now winning prizes all over - are very much the exception, I reckon.

  3. Like 80 year old San Diego Tribune-Union columnist Neil Morgan, who just got fired.

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