Sunday, May 4, 2008

Breaking the Rhythm

I was reading a very good story in this morning’s paper about two families brought together by an organ transplant. I don’t usually read too many of the long, mushy features, but I built a rhythm with this one. It was a touchy subject, and I enjoy reading how reporters handle those. This one was handled very well. However, about midway through the second column of a four-column by 8-inch jump, I stumbled. The sentence read: “He had been in three comas and, without a transplant, had only months to live without a transplant.”
As reader, this is just the kind of trip-up that usually makes me to stop reading. It doesn’t nullify the effort by the reporter, but it’s almost like I need that rhythm to keep my attention, so I move on. This time I finished the story because it was that good. The point, however, is that everyone agrees that lying or other dishonest practices are the worst that someone can do in our field, but bad editing is also a prominent threat to credibility. Luckily, most reputable newspapers and reporters build credibility over time that makes these slip-ups tolerable. After all, one paper can publish hundreds of stories in a week. As Billy Joel says, “You’re only human,” (He actually messed up in the studio recording of the song and kept the fumble in).
But such editing mistakes are something to think about in a world where formats and audiences are rapidly changing, and it will be up to us to build those new senses of credibility.

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