As I noted in my Monday post about the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, there’s other news going on in the Anglican world — the rapid move to put openly gay bishop candidates on slates in Los Angeles and Minnesota. Here’s the scoop from the CNN.com website. (A minor problem with this story: I’m not aware of any “aligned Anglican Church in Canada.” Although that national body is headed in roughly the same direction).
But this post isn’t about coverage of the gay bishop nomineees — as the elections get closer this fall and winter, I’m sure we’ll return to that subject. What is worth noting now is how some reporters for major media are addressing this topic and other breaking news.
We’ve discussed here before, many times, the factors that are driving news coverage in major media outlets. Newspapers and magazines particularly have been affected by disastrous falls in ad revenue — and the bloodletting doesn’t yet seem to be over. Reporters for news outlets are now expected to post a story almost as soon as something happens — which can lead to significant errors. Newspaper staffs have been decimated, and that means that fact-checkers and editors who might have once caught more mistakes just aren’t there anymore.
Last weekend New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt took a look at how a reporter for the newspaper, Alessandra Stanley, wrote a story that had more than a few mistakes — and how that story got published with most of the errors still there.
THE TIMES published an especially embarrassing correction on July 22, fixing seven errors in a single article — an appraisal of Walter Cronkite, the CBS anchorman famed for his meticulous reporting. The newspaper had wrong dates for historic events; gave incorrect information about Cronkite’s work, his colleagues and his program’s ratings; misstated the name of a news agency, and misspelled the name of a satellite.
“Wow,” said Arthur Cooper, a reader from Manhattan. “How did this happen?”
The short answer is that a television critic with a history of errors wrote hastily and failed to double-check her work, and editors who should have been vigilant were not.
In a self-justifying confession, let me say that reporters do make errors, because we’re human beings (although seven or eight seems like a lot). Generally, they are responsible for double-checking them. But editors should be catching most of them. With the flourishing of the blogosphere, mistakes can become gospel by pressing the “send” button. I know I’ve made mistakes in a post — and, as I’ve said, I’m grateful, though embarrassed, when readers correct errors of fact.
But with a smaller pool of reporters, media outlets are also relying more (as we’ve also discussed) on services like the Associated Press , press releases and online statements.
Read this story from the Times
website, and you’ll see that it doesn’t have a byline. There aren’t any “live” quotes, and the story is mostly background.
writers uses live quotes (nor does the original Reuters story), the purpose seems to be a little different: to provide background, get reader reaction and get the conversation started. These blogs are added responsibilities for editors and reporters — as Ms. Grossman noted a while back, she posts on her own, with no editorial help.
Let’s face it, religion beat journalists have other fish to fry than the Episcopal Church, as thrilling as it is. One would think that there were no other denominations wrestling with the same issues. Also, there will be plenty of time to examine what happens as the election processes proceed in Los Angeles and Minnesota. So maybe, in an age when religion reporters often are pressed into service in other areas, this use of online statements is an appropriate use of resources. But it’s still rather startling — and makes the interviews, where people are likelier to say something unexpected, seem more authentic.
In yet another sign of the times (Daniel Burke alluded to this in the comments on Monday’s post “Losing Forrester”) partisan blogs are providing places for readers to examine background information on hot topics, like openly gay bishop nominees. The Stand Firm in Faith blog is already researching the work of the Rev. John Kirkley, candidate for suffragan bishop of Los Angeles — and apparently having an effect.
The ferment in the journalism business is as fascinating as it is painful. But it’s helpful to ask yourself — would you want to rely solely on blogs that represent either end of the spectrum of opinion on religion, economics, or science? Whether you read opinion blogs or not, do you still feel the need for information from media outlets that have a global reach — and in many cases, a broader vision?
Wikimedia Commons: Oh, the good old days, when the New York Times building was the place where baseball fans saw the scores in the 1920 World Series