We, like other news organizations today, rely on
our writers to submit factually accurate material.
That was Newsweek spokesman Andrew Kirk to Politico, a) explaining that Newsweek no longer has fact-checkers, and b) attempting to dismiss the flaws in this week’s cover story by former McCain campaign strategist Niall Ferguson on the case against re-electing President Barack Obama.
On that statement from Newsweek, I call bullshit.
Every news organization relies on its writers to submit factually accurate material. And on its assigning editors to give a first read to that material for content. And especially on its copy desk to give the material a thorough going-over for grammar, style and, yes, for content.
But a flawed, inaccurate story is journalistic bullshit. (Strike that; it’s not journalistic bullshit. It’s just bullshit.)
No matter what the current state of newsmagazines or the news business may be, it’s work like this — courtesy of the current “editors” of Newsweek — that is hurrying along the death of our business.
Because if we don’t give a damn about accuracy or ethics or even a minimal level of standards, why should our readers?
This story has been dissected and analyzed by all sorts of folks this week. I’m not going to aggregate the findings for you, because a) I don’t have that kind of time tonight, and b) It’s completely beside the point. If you’re interested, however, knock yourself out with…
- …Joe Coscarelli of New York magazine
- …Paul Krugman of the New York Times
- …Economics professor Brad DeLong of Cal – Berkeley
- …Matt O’Brien of the Atlantic
- …James Fallows of the Atlantic
- …the original Newsweek story by Niall Ferguson
No, my points tonight have nothing to do with politics or even fact-checking this particular story. They have to do with journalism…
Point 1: If you can’t report accurately and fairly, then please get out of the business. You’re soiling the field for the rest of us.
Point 2: Readers deserve respect. If you don’t respect your reader — or if you’re going to intentionally bullshit them — then go back to working political campaigns. Or go work for Fox News, which has built its fortune on such shenanigans.
Point 3: If you can’t afford fact-checkers or copy editors, then please lock your doors, wipe your servers and cease publication. I keep reading about the “information glut” readers are saddled with today. I hereby nominate you for culling.
Point 4: Sure, journalism is a business. As a business, our publications are expected to make money.
But we also have other obligations: We’re a public service. We’re protectors of the First Amendment. We expect to hold ourselves to high ethical standards. And so on.
If you can’t do these as a journalist — or, if you won’t commit yourself to these as a leader or as a media owner — then sell your damned company or shut it down. Thin the herd. Because, believe me, the public would be better off without you.
Point 5: There are media outlets out there that serve niche markets. But there are others that have served mass markets, including large numbers of poor and underprivileged readers. If you’re one of the latter and you suddenly decide to, say, cut print publication to only three days a week and drive readers online, where profit margins might seem greater… well, that deserves my d-word bomb: That’s douchebag behavior.
(And yes, I’m looking at you, Advance.)
Point 6: Newsweek? Damn, guys. I’ll never trust you again. Ever.
I mean, a mistake is one thing. But this sounds like policy. And that’s just shameful.
That’s my soapbox for tonight, boys and girls. Sorry for the rant. But it had to be said.