Friday, March 23, 2007

Sermon time (go back to sleep)

Forward the Dead Horse Brigade! Not to dogpile on the Washington Post or anything, but there's a long-term lesson for journalism and journalism education in this somewhat overplayed tale.

Long story short, the Post spends 13 grafs explaining why it too had had an incorrect John Edwards hed up on the Web, even though (pat, pat) it had caught the error and fixed it in under a minute. The amusing quote is this:

"It was not an error of journalism," he said. "It was an error of production . . . Nobody knows how it got up because nobody hit the publishing button," Brady said.

Uh, no. It was an error of journalism. Production only enters into it because some idiot put a full magazine in the empty handgun that is production and left it on Daddy's nightstand for the Post to shoot itself in the foot with. And to get to the dead horse part, it's the sort of error in journalism that the now-much-derided "production line" model has developed a number of routines for handling.

To sum up a few points (and a big tip of the hat to Doug down in the Lesser Carolina, who for a 21st-century dude has been making this case with some sharpness of late): Publishing on deadline isn't an innovation. It's not something that requires a new set of protocols or staff retreats before we can stem the tide of howlers that breaking online news is heir to. It's what wire services and multi-edition papers did for many decades. It rewards a set of journalistic skills that should be in more demand, not less, as the distance from "the publishing button" to the audience gets shorter.

"If you don't want to see it in print, don't put it on the screen" is more than a breakfast cereal. It's the sort of professional routine that would have kept "Edwards suspends White House bid" from seeing the light of day at the Post or anywhere. My in-class example is the cutline about the 7th-grade basketball team, but the principle works the same way for a presidential campaign.


Blogger Nicole said...

It's always production's fault, and unfortunately, that's not just some lame excuse we make to the public. The problem with this is two-fold: It excuses anyone at the beginning of the line from responsibility regarding anything that happens at the end, and, more importantly, it implies the people at the end are not real journalists. Why anyone would want to advertise the fact that they have people working on important stuff that they don't feel are qualified, is beyond me.

4:35 AM, March 25, 2007  
Blogger Paul said...

I think the Post overplays this. Something went awry, then the checks and balances kicked it in no time flat. People sat down and thought through where the error ocurred. Runs on the scoreboard, I would have thought.

1:33 AM, March 26, 2007  

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