Reporting your ass off and then fact-checking that ass

Reporting your ass off and then fact-checking that ass
: Tim Porter, who blogs about journalism, just returned from two months in Mexican exile to witness the destruction of Hurricane Jayson and distance gives him a simple response:

I once had an editor named Frank McCulloch, an ex-Marine who was Saigon bureau chief for Time during the Vietnam War and later became managing editor of the L.A. Times and other newspapers. Frank was old school all the way. To him journalism was a simple thing. Find the people. Ask the right questions. Write the story. “This ain’t rocket science,” he liked to say.

It should be as simple as that and to most reporters writing most stories — your basic sewerage authority meeting — it usually is that simple.

Tim also quotes David Shaw in the LA Times arguing that newspapers should call the subjects of stories and interviews asking them how they were treated and quoted. Maybe, but that process has its own prejudices built in (deciding whom you call, what you ask, and how you judge what they say…).

Lately, I’ve heard many argue persuasively that weblogs could make a difference because the subjects of faked or otherwise f’ed up interviews with Jayson Blair could have gotten a lot more attention blogging the facts than they got sending letters to the editor. On its face, that makes more sense: The aggrieved complain in public and the paper has to deal with it in public and the public gets to decide.

But there are prejudices built into this, too: First, there’s the fear that if you complain about The Times then The Times won’t call again and you won’t get the publicity you want.

Second, it’s still not a sure thing that anyone will pay attention. I wondered why Blair wasn’t exposed sooner (and I still wonder how many tried to expose him). But then, I wonder how the hell that sicko in Syracuse managed to keep kidnapping and raping women and no one caught him. (Well, here‘s an answer to that: Some of the victims did complain and the cops didn’t listen and didn’t speak to each other.) I suppose that going to a Syracuse cop is like writing a letter to the editor of The Times; you can be ignored.

But if you’re willing to publicly complain or argue, you do have a new tool at your disposal now, a tool that never existed until now. Before blogs, you could write a letter to the editor or walk up and down 43rd Street in a sandwich board. Today, you can publish to the world.

That will make a difference — more of a difference than any commission or ombudsman.