October 13, 2004
On the subject of uninformative bylines
Kevin and Anne have been asking questions about the Chron's policy regarding bylines on submitted op-ed pieces, a subject I've ranted about in the past. What I think the op-ed page editor of the Chron - or any newspaper - owes us is what Anne did: a quick Google search on the author's name to see if he or she is being disingenuous about self-identification. What they do from there is something we can argue about, but anything that cuts down on the number of misleading bylines - asking for an edit from the author, amending the byline as they see fit, adding an editor's note with additional information - would be an improvement in my opinion. I think we have a right to know when an op-ed writer is more than just a disinterested observer, and I think they have an obligation to tell us. And that goes for letters to the editor, too.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 13, 2004 to Other punditry
I saw a situation just like you described in the NY Times around the time of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler's death where Ephedra was found to have contributed. The Times ran a signed piece in the Sports section saying Ephedra was safe, but where the author wasn't identified at all. But after a Google search like you suggest, I found the author had worked as a paid researcher for a number of companies that market or manufactured the drug.
The Powers That Be in journalism should make it an unflinching rule: Failure to spend 15 minutes Googling a story's facts and sources before airing or printing that story is journalistic incompetence. There's just no excuse for it.
A television show should not air an interview with an "undecided voter" who's actually an officer in the local university's Campus Republicans.
A newspaper should not print an op-ed authored by someone who's paid by the company whose products or services are being described, without identifying the link.
That doesn't mean the journalist should necessarily believe the information that turns up on Google. The Internet is full of false information as well. But the journalist should put a hold on the story until more fact-checking is done.