Fact Checking? We don’t need no stinking fact checking!

Oh, boy! My first rant!

Normally, I like to keep the Cafe rant free, but this really got to me, and I realized that it’s better to write about it than go charging out with a pitchfork and torch towards the nearest newspaper stand. That wouldn’t go over well, considering that I’m Christian, black and a woman.

Names are not mentioned to protect both the innocent and the guilty. I’m not that horked off (man…is that even a word? See, I’m making up my own swears now. This is how mad I am.) that I’m gonna do something stupid as say names and then have it later bite me on the ass. Besides, if you really want to know specifics, you’ll employ your super Googling skills to find out what I’m talking about. It’s easy…which makes what happened even more baffling.

A bit of background: some time ago, I went to my writer’s group, where we had someone new join us. This person, who works for a newspaper group, proceeded to tell us in great detail how said newspaper is lousy when it comes to writing articles. According to her, they basically slap a bunch of names and details together and print it without any thought for accuracy. I didn’t take her seriously, with her being a new person and all. I chalked her rant up to basic journalistic bitterness.

A week later, my hubby brought in a copy of the paper by the same group. Someone very close to me got interviewed for an article, and it finally came out. I glanced at the paper and immediately saw that the name was spelled wrong.

Then I read past the first word of the article and saw more things wrong.

It’s as if the reporter had conducted the interview on a different planet. Details mixed up in a great goulash of inaccuracy. Quotes rearranged and taken out of context, giving them a whole new meaning–the wrongest type of meaning. By the time I finished the article, I was flabbergasted at just how bad the article was–not just for the factual errors, but completely dissing the subject of what the article was about. If someone else read this article, they would be given a completely negative view of everything in the article.

Uh-oh. Here comes the cynical LaShawn with her soapbox. This is the same woman that took five years of journalism in college and almost chose to go not go to her own graduation because she hated it so. Be warned.

Cynical LaShawn: Well, naturally, they got all the details wrong. It’s a newspaper. You can’t believe everything you read in a paper because every article–even the most neutral ones–are written from the bias of the writer.

Naive LaShawn: Yeah, but it’s the duty of a reporter to write the truth and not put any personal bias in the article they write.

CL: Oh please. It’s easy. A writer can conduct an interview and then decide what to use and what not to make the story interesting. If that changes the context of the words, even better.

NL: But that’s so wrong! I read the article and instantly knew that it was wrong! Whatever happened to journalistic integrity? The reporter couldn’t pick up the phone to check the facts or go online to check them? I would think Google would be the reporters best friend.

CL: It’s not about getting facts right. It’s about getting a product out at deadline.

NL: But still, it calls into question other articles that this paper has done. If they got this article wrong, how many others are wrong, too? How can we trust anything this paper puts out?

CL: <shrugging> Before this article came out, you didn’t care if the articles in it was true.

NL: Well, no…I didn’t.

CL: So what makes you think the people of this paper care? They read it, think, “that’s nice” or “that’s bad” and turn the page to the next article. They’re not really thinking about the accuracy of the articles. They just want to know what the article is about and move on.

NL: That’s really depressing.

CL: <lighting a cigarette> Yeah, ain’t it?

NL: <staring at CL> Ummm…we don’t smoke.

CL: Yeah, and I’m not real, either. So I can do what I like.

NL: Okay…I think we had enough of you. <booting CL off her soapbox and climbing onto it herself>

I suppose I could call the paper, tell them they got all this stuff wrong, and get a correction printed. But why bother…and on another note, who will care? Only the people who got interviewed for the article are miffed, but life will probably go on for them. Those who know these people know the truth. And for those who don’t…well…it probably won’t change their opinion about the subject anyway.

But for me, as a writer, I’m appalled. When I was in college, I decided that journalism was not for me. I’d much rather write fiction because it was more real than writing newspaper articles. Who knew that fiction existed in newspapers, too?

Cynical LaShawn is shouting from the back of the Cafe, “Duh!” I think I’m going to throw the soapbox at her to shut her up. Then I’m going to take the article, give it to Daniel to rip into shreds, go have some breakfast, and dwell on the fact that newspaper readership is shrinking due to the Internet.

Ah. I feel better already.


One Response

  1. For the record, I doubt anyone seriously believed that bit about your alien abduction and er, probing. Though this might explain the appearance of Cynical LaShawn…

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