An error-riddled appraisal of the journalist Walter Cronkite published by the New York Times has provoked much discussion about the value of accuracy in modern reporting.
The article, written by TV writer Alessandra Stanley, was read over by five editors yet still contained seven errors upon publication. In response to the embarrassing incident the public editor of the Times, Clark Hoyt has written a column questioning, "How did this happen?" Unsurprisingly, it happened because a time-pressed reporter and various editors did not submit the article to a sufficient fact-check. Yet these oversights are more importantly indicative of a serious breakdown in communications at each stage of the writing and editing process.
Hoyt is explicit as to his view of accumulated factual errors, "when they come in such big clusters, undermine the authority of a newspaper, and senior editors say they are determined to find fixes". The problem is apparently greatest in the obituary department of the newsroom, as other Times articles about Cronkite contained errors. Like the majority of major publications, at the Times, the obituaries of public figures tend to be written before the actual death of the person. This however, is potentially a dangerous situation, as Hoyt explains, "reporters and editors think they have the luxury of time to handle them later -- and suddenly, it is too late".
The Time's standard's editor was equally candid in his view of the incident, "we cannot tolerate this, and have tightened procedures to rule out a recurrence. I have spoken with those involved, and other senior newsroom editors and I will monitor the implementation of these measures."
Newspapers, however, are human creations and thus errors are inevitable. The embarrassment, moreover, has served as a mixed blessing, coming as a sharp wake-up call to all in the industry that standards enforcement need to be more rigorous. Indeed, as experienced senior editor, Steven A. Smith points out, the honesty in the content of Hoyt's public recognition of the the flaws is "remarkable" in these "transparency-averse days" and demonstrates that the paper is dedicated to become more answerable to its readership. Smith concludes "this is the sort of ethical leadership one should expect from the nation's pre-eminent news organization."
The importance of factual accuracy in reporting hardly needs reiteration- it has and should always be a paramount consideration in the writing of an article of any nature. Yet, the maintenance of high standards is perhaps even more essential in today's increasingly open news media ecology.