Accuracy in Media

In his final column Sunday Washington Post Ombudsman Andy Alexander wondered aloud if the paper could retain what he called its reputation for journalistic excellence.

I’ve pondered that question while crafting this column, my last as ombudsman. So, too, have many of the tens of thousands who e-mailed or called during my two-year term as the readers’ representative. A dominant theme has been that The Post’s journalistic quality has declined. It’s a view I share.

Alexander said that the the Post on its worst days is still better than most papers on their best days and that the paper still retains a tremendous amount of influence which is true.

On the other hand Alexander complained that the numerous cutbacks in the newsroom have  riddled the paper with typos, grammatical errors and “small” factual mistakes that have eroded credibility.  The other effect of a smaller newsroom has been the reduction in local coverage leaving readers to search elsewhere for news.

To his credit Alexander lays out the fact that the Post faces tremendous challenges with continued circulation declines and online revenue though increasing still far below that of  print which will continue to place pressure on management.

On the other hand Alexander was effusive in his praise of Post chairman and chief executive Donald Graham who he says is committed to responsible journalism and is “revered” in the newsroom.

That will probably come as a surprise to conservatives who have been complaining for decades about the Post’s liberal bias but have often been given the short shrift by the paper when questioned.

The Post will survive for the foreseeable future but it’s obvious from Alexander’s column that the natives are getting restless and that doesn’t bode well for the paper.

Marcus Brauchli responds to an online chat question about errors at the Post.

The ombudsman is right that there have been too many careless errors lately–typos, grammatical errors, silly factual mistakes. I don’t want to make excuses, because we shouldn’t tolerate these sorts of errors. But by way of explanation I will say that we have made a number of changes in our processes in the last couple of years and are putting in a new editing system that will further change workflows for editors. We try to be diligent about publishing corrections, and the data are interesting: we published 1,054 corrections in 2010, up from 1,040 a year earlier and 961 in 2008, but down from a recent high of 1,319 in 2005. We have room to improve.

Many of the corrections are minor but it still shows a general trend of sloppiness and how ill suited the Post is for the 24/7 news environment.





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