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Reviewing the Reviews

"Regret the Error is a compendium of published media corrections, many of them hilarious," Carl Sessions Stepp writes in the American Journalism Review.

"But Craig Silverman, a journalist who founded the website, turns what could have been a sudsy little stocking stuffer into a serious study of why journalists fail so often."

And they do.

"Various studies show that errors occur in up to 61 percent of all stories, far more than the media acknowledge."

Far more. Let me tell you what I've learned from personal experience.

When I began writing for Chicago magazine many years ago, I was confronted with a new way of doing business unfamiliar to me but wholly common in the magazine world: Fact-checkers.

Coming from the newspaper world, I fairly sniffed at this. "I'm already a fact-checker; it's called being a reporter," I'm sure I said at some point.

I was humbled very quickly. You wouldn't believe the number of errors a fact-checker will find in the copy of even the most conscientious reporter.

Some of it is incredibly mundane. I remember the hours I once spent with a very thorough fact-checker trying to determine if a shopping center's official name was spelled using "center" or "centre." The sign said one thing, the phone book said another, and tenants, whose leases we then sought, were in conflict.

Of course, the importance of fact-checking goes far deeper than that sort of thing, particularly when you are writing lengthy and layered stories that go through several rewrites and edits. Things get away from you.

I came to love fact-checking for the simple reason that it saved my ass on numerous occasions.

And so, when I faced the same snide attitude from newspaper reporters that I once held, I understood, but I so wished I could put every one of their stories through the fact-checking process. They would be amazed.

In fact, I've often dreamed of taking one issue of the Tribune and/or Sun-Times and fact-checking every story. I'm pretty confident about the result. Which isn't necessarily a criticism. But . . .

"Silverman criticizes journalists for taking the 'personal approach,' or blaming one individual, rather than the 'systems approach,' which also considers the workplace processes and cultures that contribute," Stepp writes.

That sounds like something my favorite management theorist, W. Edwards Deming, would say. Nobody, he argued, wants to make mistakes.


Favorite correction from Silverman's book, from the Herald-Leader of Lexington, Kentucky: "It has come to the editor's attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the civil rights movement. We regret the omission."

"Best Books" by Ralph Steadman, according to The Week (and only available online to subscribers):

* The Colossus of Maroussi
* The Idiot
* Desolation Angels
* Rembrandt's Jews
* Mark Twain: A Life
* Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

The Old Politics
Unraveling the fairy tale of Abraham Lincoln.

"The tone (and sometimes) the arguments, changed, depending on the audience," William Grimes writes in a New York Times review this week of Allen Guelzo's Lincoln and Douglas. "Lincoln, facing a Whig audience in Charleston in the fourth debate and stung by constant race-baiting from Douglas, appeased his frightened party handlers and listed, Mr. Guelzo writes, 'a disgraceful catalog of all the civil rights he, fully as much as Douglas, believed blacks could be routinely deprived of.'"

Junkie Lit
The straight dope from Nelson Algren.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever feel that you should try heroin, in connection with writing a book about users?

ALGREN: No. No, I think you can do a thing like that best from a detached position.

INTERVIEWER: Were you ever put down by any of these [users] as an eavesdropper?

ALGREN: No, they were mostly amused by it. Oh, they thought it was a pretty funny way to make a living, but - well, one time, after the book came out, I was sitting in this place, and there were a couple of junkies sitting there, and this one guy was real proud of the book; he was trying to get this other guy to read it, and finally the other guy said he had read it, but be said, "You know it ain't so, it ain't like that." There's a part in the book where this guy takes a shot, and then he's talking for about four pages. This guy says, "You know it ain't like that, a guy takes a fix and he goes on the nod, I mean, you know that." And the other guy says, "Well, on the other hand, if he really knew what he was talking about, he couldn't write the book, he'd be out in the can."

Full interview at The Paris Review.


Posted on February 21, 2008

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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