Here's a quiz: How many real-life magazine or newspaper editors would ever say something like this without his or her stomach churning in self-dismay?: "I'm honored to be joining Smithsonian, a magazine brand that is loved by more than 7 million readers....my challenge is to continue the legacy of journalistic excellence while evolving our brand for the future multimedia needs of our consumer."
Hmpppf. Brand? I know some of the suits in the front offices of media, old line and new, talk like that but I thought they were only on the ad-sales and circulation side of the business. And how about using 'evolve' as a transitive verb? Or referring to one's readers as consumers. I don't know Michael Caruso, former editor of Wall Street Journal Magazine, and Men's Journal, who last fall took over as editor-in-chief of Smithsonian Magazine. Maybe some even-higher-up, somebody with consumer spin in his or her DNA, hog-tied Mr. Caruso and made him sign off on such a jumble of misbegotten verbiage as that for the press release announcing his new job.
So maybe Caruso is a white knight. He might just have had a bad day. But still ... last week Jim Romenesko, high priest of journalism gossip as well as serious thinking, revealed at at his blog that Smithsonian has told six associate editors their jobs are gone. It says they did the fact checking. This cannot be a good idea if it's so, and I've heard nothing not even on twitter that says Romenesko got it wrong. Maybe there are OTHER people to do the job? Has somebody invented a fact-check app? ("Hi Charlie, ran your story through my iPhone and it has some questions!") Some Smithsonian stories are dreadfully complex and crammed with factual, checkable assertions and opportunities to flub. Just one example: the story on green cement in the December issue, by Michael Rosenwald, an experienced science and technology freelancer and writer for the Washington Post. It reads accurate to me. I've sent him a note, asking if the story enjoyed significant change due to fact-checking. The people who do it are, of course, a pain in the butt. They make writers dig up references, tell'em they got it wrong, induce tearing of hair, etc. But I cannot count the times I've been saved from mortification, and perhaps the dreaded order to write a correction, by these meddlesome professionals who are so vital to good, long-form journalism.
Too bad blogging and daily news is too fast for practical, outside fact-checking. The doozies I've committed here at ksjtracker are beyond count. You dear readers are my fact checkers. Don't hold back.
- Charlie Petit