Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Rigorous Standards of a "Professional" Journalist

While it would probably be proper to give Nick Coleman a day off to lick his wounds, I would hate to fail in my duty as a hobby-hack journalist and leave part of the story untold.

In addition to his explosion of vice directed at Powerline yesterday, some of you might recall Coleman’s previous diatribe against the blogosphere in general. In the course of that diatribe, Coleman offered this criticism about bloggers:

“Like graffiti artists, they tag the public square -- without editors,
correction policies or community standards.”


[The Star Tribune doesn’t seem to have retained the column in question on
their website. Perhaps you might remember it as the one in which Nick
concluded that the big difference between himself and bloggers is that he
“knows stuff.” - ed.]


Not that I gave much credit to his newspaper’s editors, policies, or sense of standards, but I did assume he considered this to be an important distinction; something “real journalists” have and bloggers don’t.

Turns out I was wrong to leap to such a hasty conclusion. The Big Trunk writes at Powerline today:

I spoke yesterday with Coleman's editor at the Star Tribune to complain
about the factual inaccuracies in Coleman's column and to ask the Star Tribune
to run corrections. …

Among other things, the editor advised me that Coleman's attack on us
involved no reporting, and that the column's factual misrepresentations were to
be read in that light. Moreover, certain of the misrepresentations were to be
construed as sarcasm rather than taken at face value.

Finally, according to the editor, Coleman's false assertion that he
didn't know and we didn't say whether we might be on the take from some
campaign, political party or anonymous benefactor, appeared to violate no Star
Tribune standard. …


So despite Coleman’s delusions, according to his editor he’s not a reporter. He’s also not fact checked, apparently because they can’t tell when he’s being sarcastic. And even when he’s known to make a false claim, that doesn’t violate any of his paper’s standards either. So exactly what standards does Nick Coleman have to abide by?

(From The Big Trunk’s post again)

I asked the editor what standards Coleman's column was subject to at the Star
Tribune. He said he didn't know; he would have to research the answer to that
question and get back to me.


If this guy wasn’t actually being paid money for his column, that would be funny. As it is, it’s hilarious. He’s been preening like a peacock for years about the rigorous hard-news environment he works within. Yet his own editor, other than knowing Nick’s writing isn’t reporting and doesn’t have to be factually correct, isn’t terribly sure what these rigorous standards might be. Perhaps his columns are rigorously typed into MS Word and spell checked (as well as becoming eerily similar to early 70’s secret military memos)?

To all of you fellow Twin Cities Metro dwellers out there who simply must have a dead-tree news source, might I suggest one that actually has some editorial standards for columnists? One that also had the sense to kick Mr. Coleman to the curb, and hire some real talent instead?

4 Comments:

Blogger Craig Westover said...

Great Posts -- today and the Seven Deadly Sins column. Can you send me your email address. Thanks?

11:14 AM  
Blogger R-Five said...

This does prompt a purely business question. Wouldn't the Star Tribune be better off with a Powerline column than a Nick Coleman column?

Coleman certainly draws no new readers, and no doubt has cost them a subscription or two. Powerline (or a daily best of the NARN/MOB) would draw at least as many new readers as Coleman loses for them. They could and should also publish a "best of the left" blog post/column.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Army of Mom said...

You ought to make some of these suggestions to the newspaper's publisher and editor regarding the columns. However, as a former daily newspaper reporter, I can tell you that as long as you guys are reading and talking about this dude's columns - he'll still be writing them. Editors LOVE it when readers call and complain about an editorial or a column.

Columnists are not subject to the same checks and measures as reporters, that is true. However, they are responsible for making sure that the information they use is accurate. If they are inaccurate, corrections can and should be ran in the next issue of the paper. But, there is no fact-checking department looking over their columns 99.9 percent of the time. Hell, daily newspaper editing is so piss-poor that readers are lucky if the writer or columnist uses spellcheck.

11:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In all fairness, columnists *are* often held to a lower standard than regular reporters are editorially.

--|PW|--

7:41 AM  

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