Now I'm even more convinced of what I said in the title of my previous post, "All newspapers, including the Statesman Journal, should have a public editor."
After emailing Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times' public editor, about how disturbed I was about her newspaper's crappy reporting on a supposed "criminal" investigation into how Hillary Clinton handled classified State Department emails -- which turned out not to be the case -- today I got a reply from Sullivan's assistant.
Dear Mr. Hines,
That's customer service. And good journalism.
Like I said in my first post, I've pointed out serious factual errors that appeared in our local newspaper to editors of the Salem Statesman Journal and never got a response. So it was great to see that the New York Times (I'm a digital subscriber) does care about accuracy in its stories.
Sullivan's post about the screwed-up reporting on the Clinton emails story struck me as forthright, honest, and pleasingly critical of how the Times handled this.
Here's a few excerpts from "A Clinton Story Fraught With Inaccuracies: How It Happened and What Next?"
The story certainly seemed like a blockbuster: A criminal investigation of Hillary Rodham Clinton by the Justice Department was being sought by two federal inspectors general over her email practices while secretary of state.
...But aspects of it began to unravel soon after it first went online. The first major change was this: It wasn’t really Mrs. Clinton directly who was the focus of the request for an investigation. It was more general: whether government information was handled improperly in connection with her use of a personal email account.
...There are at least two major journalistic problems here, in my view. Competitive pressure and the desire for a scoop led to too much speed and not enough caution. Mr. Purdy told me that the reporters, whom he described as excellent and experienced, were “sent back again and again” to seek confirmation of the key elements; but while no one would discuss the specifics of who the sources were, my sense is that final confirmation came from the same person more than once.
...Reporting a less sensational version of the story, with a headline that did not include the word “criminal,” and continuing to develop it the next day would have been a wise play. Better yet: Waiting until the next day to publish anything at all.
Losing the story to another news outlet would have been a far, far better outcome than publishing an unfair story and damaging The Times’s reputation for accuracy.
What’s more, when mistakes inevitably happen, The Times needs to be much more transparent with readers about what is going on. Just revising the story, and figuring out the corrections later, doesn’t cut it.
...I’ll summarize my prescription in four words: Less speed. More transparency.
After all, readers come to The Times not for a scoop, though those can be great, but for fair, authoritative and accurate information. And when things do go wrong, readers deserve a thorough, immediate explanation from the top. None of that happened here.
Well, that also didn't happen when, several times, I told editors at the Statesman Journal about problems with pieces published in their paper.
Hopefully Executive Editor Michael Davis, Editorial Page Editor Dick Hughes, and other top staff at the Statesman Journal will learn some lessons from what went wrong at the New York Times (a far superior publication, obviously) and how the Times responded to those problems.
Once a newspaper loses the trust of subscribers, it's a downhill slide into mediocrity.
The Statesman Journal is heading in that direction, but it still is possible to turn the paper around with some competent journalistic leadership -- such as Margaret Sullivan showed at the New York Times.