Why Getting the Little Things Right
Really Matters In Newspaper Stories
One of the reasons the Wall Street Journal has come to be so beloved and trusted among serious readers and serious writers everywhere is the paper's uncanny habit of getting its facts straight--at least in the news pages. Over a century, it built a unique newsroom culture that was probably the purest expression anywhere of the group pursuit of factual accuracy. It's a culture that seems unlikely to survive its new owner, Rupert Murdoch.
But factual accuracy isn't simply about getting things right. It's equally important not to miss important facts, the kind of facts whose absence can render the point of a story all but moot.
I thought about all this when I read a story in the Plain Dealer last Wednesday about a plan to merge the Cuyahoga and Cleveland bar associations. Written by Alison Grant, it was a workmanlike late-summer piece that wouldn't ordinarily attract much attention. At least until I read her summary of why this region happens to have two bar associations: ancient cronyism and ethnic bigotry. Actually, as anyone who has spent any time at all around the Cleveland legal world should know, the older Cleveland Bar has historically been comprised of defense firms and their lawyers, while the Cuyahoga Bar has been mostly home to plaintiff's lawyers. If you know anything at all about the law, you should know that division represents a giant cultural chasm and a real divergence in their outlooks and interests.
Okay, so it would have been one thing if she was merely one of those college students on a summer internship that I wrote about recently. In that case, you'd mostly lay the blame at the feet of her editors. But that's hardly the case: Ms. Grant is a veteran reporter who was a Pulitzer finalist in 1996, for her devastating series of investigative reports on city hall corruption in Beachwood. Let's be generous, shall we, and chalk it up to a case of the summer blahs.