26 May 2005

Why They Get it Wrong

The New York Times is laying off 190 employees, mostly at their flagship newspaper.


I think they're in big trouble.

I regularly read the free online version of the newspaper, but I wouldn't subscribe to the "kill trees" version of the blurb because I don't want to put money into the pockets of an organization I perceive as having a terrible left leaning bias.

Faced with Democracy breaking out in Iraq, Egypt, and Lebanon...
and Libya and Syria looking more and more moderate, The Times has been unable to find a kind word to say about the President and his influence in the region.

As a retired soldier that truly believes we have been at war with Muslim fanatics since the first of the Palestinian hijackings back in the 1970's, I'm disheartened by the anti-military, anti-Bush harangue I am exposed to every time I try to read the Gray Lady! It's my impression they have an agenda to follow, and facts that don't advance their agenda don't make it into print.

But there is another problem, and the NYT isn't the only media outlet that fails this test:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ep/20050524/en_bpiep/studyjournospublicholddivergentviewsonmedia (Thanks to Rogerlsimon.com)

Their credibility is gone.
I think too many people have had the same experience I have had...
Let me relate why I'm concerned about the details of the news we recieve.

For several years I flew the traffic helicopter for a "50,000 watt Blowtorch" Midwestern AM radio station that is heard regularly in 43 states.

Suffice it to say, if I mentioned the station's call letters, you'd know them...
a "giant" in the information transmission business.

I had preflighted the aircraft. The traffic reporter and I were waiting until takeoff time, listening to the news on the station for whom we would be doing traffic reports in 15 minutes.

On the local news, there was a report that a well known owner of a large local business had been killed flying his "helicopter".

I knew this man, and I knew his machine.

At this time in my life, I frequently went to fly-ins at airports to give helicopter rides in the R22. At many of these events, you would run into the same folks you had seen at another meet in another town, just two or three weeks ago.

The gentleman in question had a bad heart. He could not pass an FAA flight physical, but he still wanted to fly.

There are ways of doing this... ultralight aircraft are not registered by the FAA, and no flight physical is required to fly them.
(The FAA's thought process on them is that they are so light, the only person at risk from them is the person flying them!)

This old fella had purchased an ultralight gyroplane, and flew it almost every weekend. He loved going to fly-ins to socialize with other people that fly.
He had a zest for life.......he was interesting and fun to be around.

My guess is that his ticker gave out while he was flying. He may have been dead before his aircraft hit the ground.
A sad event, certainly, but I take comfort knowing he died doing something he truly loved to do.

But back to the problem at hand. A gyroplane... sometimes called a "gyrocopter", is NOT a helicopter!
They cannot hover. They are more like airplanes... using a rotor instead of a fixed-wing to lift them into the air, and a regular propellor to drive them forward.

They DO NOT fly like helicopters... to fly them safely, you must fly them like an airplane.

I discussed the station's reporting error with the traffic reporter, and he suggested I call the newsroom to correct their mistake. I had him make the call, to lend credence to my information, then hand me the phone for the explanation. I talked with the woman that had filed the report and told her the report she had given was in error. She thanked me for my correction, and I got off the phone feeling like I had made the world a tiny bit better.

In half an hour she did the report again, and didn't change a word!
I couldn't believe it.

I realize the difference is unimportant to the general public, but how hard would it have been to have announced he died flying a gyroplane, rather than by crashing his "helicopter"? He didn't crash his helicopter... he didn't have one to crash! With the correct information at hand, why not get the story EXACTLY right?

And there is my question...
I consider myself an expert in my field. Media folks can be experts in their field... "the media", but they generally have no detailed knowledge of technology, protocols, or procedures they report on. Wouldn't you hope they would lean heavily on industry experts to get their stories straight?

How often does this happen? If they screw up every story they broadcast as they did this one, even if it is by the tiniest little bit, how often do they get the story right?

In this case, they didn't. They knew I was an expert and ignored my correction.
Why? Maybe because it was too much trouble. Maybe the reporter felt it made no difference to her listeners. In this case, I don't think there was a willful attempt to mislead.
I'm NOT sure of that in the case of political stories in the NYT!

With expert information just a keyboard away, the major media outlets have to strive to NAIL their information if they want to regain the confidence of their audience.

With some sources, I double and triple check the information they broadcast these days.
I'm amazed at the disinformation I receive from friends and family!
They still WANT to believe.

1 comment:

Aviatrix said...

Every news story I have ever been involved in has been inaccurately reported. Sometimes the inaccuracies are small embellishments, sometimes they are simplifications, or things the reporter didn't understand. Sometimes they lie to make it more interesting. Sometimes they flat out get names, dates and places wrong.

I've done the same job, in fixed wing, and witnessed as my idle speculation, intended as chit-chat with my reporter-passenger was reported five minutes later as news fact.

If people care about accuracy over interest and ease, they go into science courses, not arts courses.

The newsreader you called at your station probably did not write the copy she was reading, and did not have the authority to change it, even if she understood that a gyroplane was not some fancy kind of helicopter.