Thursday, October 25, 2007

'Pushing accountability down'

A couple of examples from today's trawling bring to mind this rather scary excerpt from an AJR piece last month:

Some stories get fewer reads. "We have less of a safety net," she [Julia Wallace, editor of the AJ-C] acknowledges. "But it's also about pushing accountability down."

Add "pushing accountability down" to the list of phrases that define a news executive as a weasel on sight (the "it's about" thing is an issue of annoying usage, not of evil management). It's not "pushing accountability down" when you give people 10 feet of "safety net" to cover a 15-foot gap. It's washing your own hands of responsibility that -- surprise -- drifts downstream to people who don't get a respectful hearing in the pages of the AJR.

What does it look like in real life?

Santorum, Curry to write columns for Inquirer
... Santorum was a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2007. ... He is the author of It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good. He is writing a second book on the war against a radical, Islamic fascist enemy and its growing global alliances.

This is marked " staff," meaning it can't be blamed on some outside PR satan. It's written and -- to at least some extent, we trust -- edited by the Philly news staff. What stands out? Well, if Rick Santorum was writing a second book about the War with the Newts, we'd presumably let you know that the said war existed primarily in his own mind (or that of the real author he channeled it from). Or if he was writing about the war of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men against the Dark Lord on his Dark Throne ... OK, you get the idea. This is sort of a once-removed declarative version of question-begging (sorry, Ridger): Santorum isn't the one who has to show that his global Islamic fascist octopus is real. has done his work for him. That's the sort of thing that safety nets are meant to catch.

As is this:
Man who tried to hit detective arrested
Huntersville police Wednesday arrested a man who tried to run over a detective after police spotted him breaking into parked cars.

Thanks again, Judge Observer, for sparing us the expense of putting the guilty miscreant on trial! The relative clauses in the hed and lede don't say he's accused of trying to assault a cop with an auto. They flat-out say he did. Guilty, guilty, guilty, as the pro-safety-net gang at Doonesbury used to have it.

One more thing?

"It's surprising, we find a lot of people leave their cars unlocked with valuables in site," Kee said.

Got that right, officer! Around here, they usually leave their valuables in sight! Unless they're distracted by comma splices or rampaging newts or something.

Journalism is done in a hurry. Reporters aren't perfect. Neither are copy editors (though some of them walk on water). The safety nets are there for a reason. People who pull them down and blame the resulting accidents on some notional lack of effort or accountability on the part of the people who absorb the extra work ... well, they certainly don't make it any easier to suggest to journalists-in-training that this is an honorable profession.

One refreshing exception to the usual wash of smarter-not-harder pap from the glass offices came in a sad memo that Romenesko posted this week. It's not good news, and my sympathies are with the folks in Spokane who are waiting to hear the ugly details. But a couple of points stand out for their candor:

I fear we may be looking at involuntary layoffs in excess of 10 positions, maybe substantially more than 10. That is terrible news and I am saddened and embarrassed to have to deliver it to you.

Let me restate my comments from last August: These cuts will mean a lesser paper. Some things we do now, important things, will be eliminated. Our readers will notice.

It isn't pretty. But it's in English -- with a lot of active clauses, too -- and it doesn't tap-dance around the obvious. Here's the sweetness-n-light version from the local fishwrap:

The staff cuts, though, will be spread throughout much of the organization, including advertising, circulation and newsroom employees, Ellwood said. The targeted reductions for newsroom employees is 22 – 16 for the Free Press and six at the News, she said.

The cuts should not affect news coverage, Ellwood said. “Something we’re not going to change is our commitment to providing the right amount of coverage,” she said.

It's hard to call that anything but bullshit.


Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Not going to change their commitment? Maybe not. But I'm committed to world peace. Doesn't seem to be happening.

3:53 PM, October 25, 2007  

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