Friday, April 20, 2007

Bad Readin's - and a couple of goods

Fact-checking these days isn't really that hard. You start with a search engine. Which is why the following two errors -- regarding search engines! -- are especially befuddling:

* In an L.A. Times review of ABC's all-girl gabfest "The View" that is online now but in print on Sunday, author Mary McNamara writes: "If you employ one of (Rosie) O'Donnell's favorite research tools and Google "The View," you will, on most days, come up with a list of "recent news" entries long before you hit the show's website." I tried it. Didn't happen. Will keep trying, but it seems like an ill-conceived cheap shot aimed at Rosie's reference to Donald Trump's alleged bankruptcies several months ago and where she claimed to find the information. As if Mary McNamara herself doesn't also, as a journalist every single day, use Google to start her research. (Another L.A. Times piece posted today, profiling "View" host Elisabeth Hasselbeck, is terrific and well worth a read.)

*In yesterday's Doonesbury -- which I've taken to reading online because the Review-Journal buries it somewhere behind the Classifieds for no apparent reason -- Garry Trudeau is mocking the shifting political positions of former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney. In the third frame, Mike Doonesbury asks Mark Slackmeyer, "Mark, what happens when you do a search on 'flip-flop' and 'Mitt Romney?' " And Mark replies: "You get 5,435,000 hits, Mike." You try it. I just did. I got 106,000. Probably a lot of repeat results in there, too.

Elsewhere in the media this morning, the Review-Journal ran a completely ridiculous story about a complaint hotline at McCarran Airport that led callers to the wrong place. This was the TOP local story in the newspaper's estimation, based on where it placed it. Did the errant information lead callers to a Chinese take-out? Maybe a little old lady who is getting sick of having her "Wheel of Fortune" interrupted? Perhaps, this being Vegas, a phone-sex line? No! Any of those things would've been fun, interesting, newsy. In this case, it sent callers to a recently disconnected FAA number and the cell phone of a Las Vegas city public information officer. So? The airport spokesman, a former R-J scribe himself who must be appalled now to be on the other end of this stuff, says it was an honest mistake. But what kind of a story does that make?

I know how these stories get done -- a reporter stumbles over the glitch and calls around for comments or somebody in the public calls the reporter. Doesn't make it a real story, even if you can get the mayor to opine on it in a way that suits your narrative which, in this case, is that the airport hates people.

This journalistic tactic only works if there's a legitimate problem. Like this story I did for the R-J in 1997 when I was alerted by a parent to the fact that the Clark County School District's own website on how to enroll kids in kindergarden was riddled with appalling spelling errors from top to bottom. I opened the piece with my favorite lead ever: "To enroll you're childeren in kunderfarden, it is improtant and nessary to bring a coppy of a utility bull, even in outlaying areas." All of those mistakes were on the site. Now that is irony and news.

Today's Las Vegas Sun, meanwhile, had two excellent pieces, both of which I may end up using for stories of my own. One, by my "Petcast" co-host Emily Richmond, looked into early signs that the school district, which is chronically understaffed even as it opens new schools every year to keep up with population growth, has seen a plummet in the number of teacher applications to date, portending an even greater crisis this year than ever before. See? A little more important than a screwy phone line, no?

And Mike Trask writes about this guy in Henderson, Nev., who is digitizing a huge collection of vintage TV shows and tossing them up on the Internet at The site, by the way, is brilliant and free!


David Greene said...

Dude, YOU mispelled kindergarten in here. That's irony, too!

Otherwise, great points. And I love this TV site!

J.P. in Juneau said...

uh, dude, you misspelled "misspelled."