James Rainey has a piece in the LAT today – “Cronkite blunder a revealing look inside New York Times” – excoriating the East Coast paper for playing favorites with its reporters. Commenting on the almost comical eight errors in Alessandra Stanley’s Walter Cronkite tribute, Rainey opines: The Times has a bad habit, revealed by the Stanley critique and in recent years by the Jayson Blair and Judith Miller incidents, of letting a few well-connected journalists run amok.
But Rainey continues: At the same time, the Times has shown the strength to subject itself to a level of self scrutiny that some (in a Web Age when corrections of grievous errors come labeled as “updates”) would not even pretend.
Hmmm… “… grievous errors come labeled as ‘updates'”… Well, we all make mistakes. But I think the problem is that the modern newspaper is not nearly as well placed to correct them as the Web. First of all, the papers don’t have the personnel. When I most recently wrote for the LAT, fact-checking consisted of a woman calling me up and asking “Was that all true?” and my replying “Yes.” That was it! And that was a few years ago. Things are probably worse now, if anything. At the NYT, they may have a few more fact-checkers, but I suspect not many more.
On the Web, a well-attended blog has thousands of readers. The assembled readers also have a wider knowledge base than the standard fact-checker. The chances of an error getting through are vastly less than at a newspaper. I’m usually corrected within five minutes. [And don’t forget. You have me.-ed. How could I?]