Monday, September 14, 2009

Surely newspapers know what they are talking about? Right?

I am confused. The Wall Street Journal (on Friday) and The New York Times (Sunday) ran stories on fashion bloggers, both of which made glaring factual errors. Both newspapers are known to have rigorous fact checking policies. So how could such basic mistakes have been made?

The errors were as follows: The New York Times piece by Alice Pfeiffer said that Susanna Lau of Style Bubble was designing for Urban Outfitters. Ms Lau confirmed that this was untrue on her Twitter feed this evening. (Maybe they were confusing her with Jane Aldridge of Sea of Shoes who has designed for UO?)

In addition her blog was misnamed at first mention: it was called Susie Bubble instead of the correct Style Bubble, although later on in the piece it was called by the correct title.

The journalist also seemed unable to make up her mind about the location of the blogger The Cherry Blossom Girl. In one paragraph, she call her, "a blogger and designer from London", and in a succeeding paragraph she becomes,"the Paris-based creator of the Cherry Blossom Girl blog". If the writer couldn't be bothered to check with her personally, a simple wiki search would elicit the information that she is French, and based in Paris.

So, piss-poor copy editing (failing to weed out repetition, errors, incoherency & structure problems) throughout the piece in addition to the lack of fact-checking.

The Wall Street Journal's piece by Katherine Rosman asserted that Jane Aldridge had, "decided not to return for her senior year of high school." On her blog today Ms Aldridge issued a rebuttal: “This is untrue...I am currently finishing up my English credit and will graduate with the rest of my class in 2010...I didn't drop out of school."

It’s common for the print media to bash the blog world. Common criticisms & mutterings run along well-worn tracks: bloggers are amateurs, they don’t fact check, they peddle rumour for truth, they are loose cannons in the news world, they shouldn't be allowed to play with the grown-ups.

So how can two of the most famous, venerable newspapers in the world run copy that has basic mistakes of exactly the type for which bloggers are lambasted? There is a certain irony in the knowledge that when the so-called bastions of proper journalism attempt to cover the blog world rigorous fact checking flies out of the window.

As a print journalist, I‘m unusual in the fashion blogosphere: most independent bloggers aren't hacks. And, in this case, my print experience makes me particularly well placed to comment on this story, as I’ve worked on one of the newspapers that ran the inaccurate stories. I know just how much they pride themselves on their fact checking. Certainly, when I was in my old position, anyone mentioned in an article I wrote had to be rung up to get the facts about them verified. So God knows what went wrong here. Surely they don't believe that the blog world should be treated to lower standards of journalism?

It's also worth noting that The Wall Street Journal piece, whilst mentioning the bloggers' real names, failed to mention the names of their blogs, (bloggers are usually identified by their blog names; even regular readers would be hard put to identify a blogger's real name), thereby rubbing in the fact that they just don't get it.

Would it be too hard to commission journalists who comprehend their subject matter?