Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Politico Gaffe: It Really Happened

Probably millions of people have seen the image and story above, which appeared – briefly – on the site yesterday.  Politico pulled the story almost instantly, but in the internet age, nothing really disappears.

A lot of people thought this was a fake.  No reporter for a national organization that covers politics – particularly the organization’s White House reporter – would mistake the state flag of Wisconsin for a union banner.   Certainly some editor would have caught this incredibly stupid gaffe and spiked the story, right?


Donovan Slack – and by the way, she’s a “she”, not a “he”, as a lot of people have mistakenly referred to her – worked for the Boston Globe for 8 years before taking the job with politico.  When politico was inundated with derisive communications about the stupid mistake, it quickly pulled the story, and later made what serves as a retraction and apology in this day and age.

How can someone who’s had a decade of experience as a “reporter” write a sentence like the lead you see above: “It’s very clear what side President Obama is on here in Wisconsin”.  If you don’t know what’s wrong with that sentence, you’ve never had an editor correct your mistakes.  And how about “…two flags:  an American one, as usual…..”  What kind of semi-literate person would write that?  It looks more like the work of a blogger who’s never had any formal training in writing English.

My point is there’s an abundance of really sloppy stuff that passes for “journalism” these days, which was the theme of my Facebook post on this topic, a post that generated similar responses from a lot of former broadcast news people with whom I remain acquainted.

A couple examples from last night’s local TV fare: one station’s anchor did ten-second inserts promoting the station’s 10 o’clock news which teased “a horrible incident of alleged child abuse”.  ALLEGED child abuse?  You think the young girl in the story did this to herself?  Her parents may be alleged child abusers, but what we’ve got here is certainly not an incident of “alleged child abuse”.   And on an earlier newscast, one of the anchors referred repeatedly to “the one-year anniversary” of the protests in Madison.  (In English, it’s “first anniversary”, if you didn’t know; but news professionals SHOULD know.)

I guess what really bugs me, and apparently a lot of my friends who used to do news for a living, is that way too much stuff like this (“alleged child abuse”, “one-year anniversary”, the lunacy of the politico gaffe) is presented to the public – stuff that not that many years ago would have been caught in edit or review before it ever hit the airwaves or the internet.  The people who do the job today are all too often ill-prepared for the profession; no one mentors them, coaches them, or really supervises their work-product; and newsroom leaders who once would have caught this stuff are either gone, have taken a different job, or are just plain tired of the responsibilities of leadership.

I know I’m painting with a broad brush, because there are still plenty of people in the nooz biz that can write a snappy sentence in clear English with good grammar, who really care about being accurate, who are conscientious and thorough in their approach, and – unfortunately – who are pulled in many directions by the demands of a job which has changed dramatically over the past few years, with deadlines and demands on many platforms instead of one.

But stuff like the politico thing?  Absolutely inexcusable.  They should be ashamed, but I know they’re not.

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