Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Black day for Gray Lady

New York Times, July 22, 2009:

An appraisal on Saturday about Walter Cronkite’s career included a number of errors. In some copies, it misstated the date that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and referred incorrectly to Mr. Cronkite’s coverage of D-Day. Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968, not April 30. Mr. Cronkite covered the D-Day landing from a warplane; he did not storm the beaches. In addition, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, not July 26. “The CBS Evening News” overtook “The Huntley-Brinkley Report” on NBC in the ratings during the 1967-68 television season, not after Chet Huntley retired in 1970. A communications satellite used to relay correspondents’ reports from around the world was Telstar, not Telestar. Howard K. Smith was not one of the CBS correspondents Mr. Cronkite would turn to for reports from the field after he became anchor of “The CBS Evening News” in 1962; he left CBS before Mr. Cronkite was the anchor. Because of an editing error, the appraisal also misstated the name of the news agency for which Mr. Cronkite was Moscow bureau chief after World War II. At that time it was United Press, not United Press International. (Go to Article)
New York Times, August 2, 2009
THE TIMES published an especially embarrassing correction on July 22, fixing seven errors in a single article — an appraisal of Walter Cronkite, the CBS anchorman famed for his meticulous reporting. The newspaper had wrong dates for historic events; gave incorrect information about Cronkite’s work, his colleagues and his program’s ratings; misstated the name of a news agency, and misspelled the name of a satellite.

“Wow,” said Arthur Cooper, a reader from Manhattan. “How did this happen?”

The short answer is that a television critic with a history of errors wrote hastily and failed to double-check her work, and editors who should have been vigilant were not.

But a more nuanced answer is that even a newspaper like The Times, with layers of editing to ensure accuracy, can go off the rails when communication is poor, individuals do not bear down hard enough, and they make assumptions about what others have done.
In 1200 words, the brutally honest investigation by Clark Hoyt (NYT public editor) dissects the problems enumerated by the 200 word correction to the flawed 1200 word original.

This is sad, really sad. Even with my ongoing disappointment with the groupthink bias of most of the major media, the New York Times is the flagship of American journalism. As a former journalist, it’s painful to watch the failure of the processes that are supposed to assure its quality and thus protect its reputation (at least with its undeniably liberal core audience).

More seriously, the Times has resources unmatched by any other journalistic outlet. With unflinching public editors like Hoyt (and Daniel Okrent before him), it also examines its own mistakes with a candor unmatched by both any American institution (thus providing at least some level of accountability). If the Times is making this sort of mistakes, what is happening at other newspapers, magazines or TV networks that we don’t know about?

Of course, the new media — blogging, advocacy radio, social network-driven campaigns and citizen journalism — have their own problems. As in everything else, caveat emptor.

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