21 August 2009

Getting it right, getting it wrong

The comments section of my local newspaper's online edition is filled with the most retrograde, racist, xenophobic goobers to ever type a sentence. I hesitate to even log in because I always end up feeling so downcast about the state of humanity after reading what they say.

Any time an article mentions someone with a Latino last name or a subject even tangentially related to homosexuality, the chunderheads go into full zoom-zoom crazyhead mode. Illegals! Gays!

Hundreds of comments. I mean, look. Enough said.

Anyway, when they aren't flipping out about "the illegals" or "the gays," the rabblerific comments section is full of entries about how the newspaper can't get anything right.

I have been working my way through "The Wire," the greatest TV show ever (period, end of story). Season 5 is all about journalism. Oh, it is good. It also gives me the most painful pangs of nostalgia for the newsroom. I can barely stand it.

In one scene, the city editor wakes out of a dead sleep and goes and calls the copy desk to ask about some facts he inserted in a story. He is panting, thinking for sure he got the numbers reversed. Some little minor thing about the tonnage of shipments at the port last month, but he is losing his mind over it.

It reminded me so much of my life when I reported every day. I did that ALL THE TIME. And I asked people at my workplace - I work with a bunch of former news people - if that had happened to them, and they all had stories. Lots of stories.

We had all awakened wildly, thinking for sure we had pooched a fact, something that no one else would notice, but that we would know.

I remember one night when I lay there, tossing and turning until I couldn't stand it anymore. I woke up the exMrStapler, who was an attorney.

"If someone is being held for questioning, are they 'in custody'?" I asked.

I was freaking out because I had said "in custody" and I wasn't sure that was precise enough. ExMrS thought for a bit.

"Was he free to go?" he said.
"Then you could say he was in custody," ruled ExMrS.

I had awakened sweating because I cared. I didn't care because I would get in trouble or because we would have to run a correction (though that was horrible, too). I cared because I believed all that crap about writing "the first draft of history." I cared because facts are facts, and they are supposed to be right. I cared because I was part of a long tradition of reporting the news, of separating out the true from the false. I really, really cared in a way I never cared about anything before or since.

Those goons in the comment section honestly believe that journalists don't give a hoot, that they screw up and blithely go about their day. Maybe there are some who do. But I have just never met one, and I never was one. I can only hope that they, some day, somehow, care about something as much as I cared about getting the news right.


meno said...

Sometimes, to amuse myself, i do read the comments on the newspaper articles on line. Man, no matter what the topic, they degenerate into rants about immigrants, bad divers, the parentage of other commenters and anyone else available as target. It's discouraging that we can be so awful.

Julie said...

Most of the people commenting probably didn't even read the entire article. It is much like the town hall meetings, or many other things going on in the world - educating yourself takes time and doesn't allow you to use our voice and illiterate writing skills, so why bother? Best to stay ignorant. This is why AM radio has so many fans, you can listen to a loud fat guy tell you what to think, which is SO much easier than actually thinking.

mar said...

i'm glad you care, sb.
and i think it's epidemic because the local news stations & the papers both have horrendous jackholes who comment. i wonder if it's all the same trolls because i dread the thought of how many idiots are out there if it's not.

Schmutzie said...

I loved hearing about how reporters do care. I think there is a dangerous and misleading idea out there that people don't care, in general, and yet I keep unearthing stories of people and groups that do.

That comments section you linked to? Ouch. So much hate from people who espouse biblical teachings but haven't done the book learnin'.

Scientific Lutheran said...

The friend involved doesn't read my blog very often, but she did yesterday and was HIGHLY offended that I wouldn't just come to her and just talk about it. I didn't know what to tell her. My blog is a place to dump my thought and get them out of my head and I tried to tell her it wasn't a passive aggressive move, it was simply a refection of what was going through my brain at the time. She's still upset at me, though. That's why I removed the post. This is also why I have a limited number of RL friends that read my blog. Not worth the stress.

Suzanne said...

Fabulous post on things that I think about, too. I'm glad to know that some people care, but what scares me is how little evidence I see. For example, in the NY Times Business Section yesterday, there was an article on how banks are now failing because they made loans that are going bad. The entire article made a false distinction between bad loans that were made and later packaged as securities and bad loans that were held in bank portfolios. There is no difference between the two - the loans were underwritten without regard for facts and out of a panic to get a profit. Or the story after Walter Cronkite died (also in the NY Times) that was full or errors written by someone who the Times Public Editor said chronically has errors in her stories. Well, why is she still writing then?

I see things like this all the time and it drives me nuts. Sometimes I think all the good reporters like you have been driven out of the business because the pay is so bad and the corporate management/censorship thing is worse. Sorry for the op-ed. :)

Overflowing Brain said...

Just reading the comments on that article made me want to scream. I got through like 10 and then closed it. Because I want to write a 10 page dissertation on tolerance and not being an ignorant bigot, but I know that no one would listen. Because ignorance is not a state of mind. It's a lifestyle.

Thank you for caring about facts and honest reporting. If only there were more like you.

Isabella Golightly said...

Thank you for giving me some comfort that not all the educated (as opposed to the gay or the immigrant) have left the US. Sometimes we read stuff that happens over there and roll our collective eyes - please keep shining that beacon!

Lucy said...

SueBob, My Dear, First of all, The Wire is truly fine, in the actual sense of the word, and I remember the scene. There are certainly plenty of reporters who do care. In today's New York Times Magazine, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn write about their years of work in Africa and the innumerable abuses of women around the world.

There are certain professions that are more public than others, and subject to public scrutiny. (As a teacher, I am in that category, too.) The people who comment most on other people's work, or articles, are those who are dissatisfied, or simply do not have enough to do.

It seems to me that most reporters must care about getting the facts right (and I am not referring to the talking heads on television and radio - they are another category altogether).

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