A few broadsides for the newspaper industry

In what has to be the worst factual error in American newspaper history, scores of major morning papers reported that 12 of 13 trapped coal miners in West Virginia were been found alive and safe. Tragically, they were not, and now an industry pummeled on every side must once again explain itself. The error is being attributed to a “tragic misunderstanding,” and I’m sure this will be dissected for a very long time.

Morning papers are in an awful spot on stuff like this, and clearly the journalism community believed for a period that the miners were indeed alive. While cable networks and websites were able to quickly change the story, as the truth was revealed, the morning papers were screwed. Unlike the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” mistake, this one involves the emotional turmoil of death, and the lawyers of the land won’t be able to leave it alone. Perhaps they shouldn’t.

Papers simply can’t compete on breaking news, and pushing the envelope only invites error. Many will say that something like this was inevitable, but the only thing I’ll say is that it’s incredibly sad. Imagine the pain of these families. I cannot.

And this is not the only embarrassment for the newspaper industry today. Via Romenesko:

Longtime Sun columnist Michael Olesker resigned Tuesday amid allegations that he used passages from other newspapers without attribution. “I made mistakes,” says Olesker. “I would never take somebody else’s work and call it my own.”
Yet that’s exactly what he’s accused of doing. I’m not sure what’s worse, the deed or the stonewall. There’s more:

Doug Bandow (of the Los Angeles Times) says he’s “paying a high price” for taking money to write op-ed pieces favorable to the positions of lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s clients. “In retrospect, it was stupid because it created an appearance that would bring all of my work into potential disrepute. And the appearance was made worse by Abramoff’s other shenanigans. But it’s silly to suggest that $1,000 or so would buy my opinion…”
Ah, excuse me, but isn’t that exactly what happened? The guy paid Bandow to write favorable opinions, so it’s not so silly a suggestion after all. Again, what’s worse? the “mistake” or the stonewall.

We are in a time of profound change in the world of media, and it’s just — as I said — incredibly sad to watch this once-vaunted institution crumble. I have great faith in tomorrow, however, and I hope that whatever blossoms downstream will learn from what’s taking place today.

Comments

  1. Walking through O’Hare airport last night USA Today still had the miracle headlines. Change is constant otherwise we would still be waiting for our morning delivery of ice.

  2. Another horrifying aspect of this situation that I don’t think most people realize is that the media is only bothering with fact correction because it’s a big story that got a lot of attention. If you’re just a nobody in their eyes, they don’t bother.

    I went through my own media situation this year, and I couldn’t get corrections from anybody. My inquiries to the editor were mostly ignored, or I got a lame excuse like "it’s too late once it’s on the web site – we’ll get it right next time." The local NBC station actually spliced an interview with new questions to get the fictional story they wanted! I could find no oversight organization to look into this. I got no replies from FAIR, and PRWatch said they couldn’t help. I didn’t get a reply from the Journalist organizations in my state (CA). I couldn’t get my political representatives to help because the media’s errors had put me on the wrong side of public attention in their eyes.

    Lately mainstream journalists have been attacking bloggers because there is no fact correction process and no "recourse" for problems. I want everyone to know the height of hyprocrisy here. There is no recourse for fact correction in the main stream media if the editor/reporter regards you as someone of no consequence. They know they can say anything and get away with it.

    For my situation, go here:
    http://www.livejournal.com/users/corphq/

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