Sunday, June 11, 2006

Has the New York Times Ever Heard of Quality Control?

Byron Calame, the NYT’s Public Editor has a great piece on a NYT story about an alleged standing room “seat” to be put on the Airbus A380. The piece is “Landing on Page 1 With Hardly a Wary Eye”.

Here are some excerpts from Byron’s article describe the issue.

“As the old journalism platitude goes, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." And when there's a story that's likely to make readers go "Wow!," it should be checked twice.”

“But such a story still made its way to The Times's front page last month while hardly meeting a skeptical eye — despite crossing the path of a passel of editors at all levels, including those who run the paper.”

“The Wow! in the April 25 story was a standing-room-only "seat" for airline passengers. An attention-grabbing illustration depicted a standing passenger leaning back against a nearly vertical board and held in place by restraints. The headline couldn't have been clearer: "One Day, That Economy Ticket May Buy You a Place to Stand." And the article explained that Airbus, the giant aircraft maker, "has been quietly pitching" the idea to Asian airlines.”
“It turns out this account was wrong. Airbus had abandoned the idea no later than 2004. There was no proof that the idea had been pitched to any Asian airlines.”

“The problems didn't stop there. Despite an immediate public denial by Airbus, the stand-up seat idea stood uncorrected for a week.”

Here is the telltale comment from Associate Managing Editor Chuck Strum.

“The news desk, where experienced editors do a final read of most Page 1 articles each night, had only "routine questions" about the article, said Chuck Strum, an associate managing editor. "The news desk treated this piece as a light feature," he said. "It was a thin piece and seemed harmless enough."”

“"In general," Mr. Strum said in defense of the news desk, "we don't assume that the various ... desks submit articles in which the central premise is wrong."”

In other words, Mr. Strum is admitting that there is no effective quality control at the NYT because the premises underlying quality control are not recognized by the NYT staff, right up to the top.

There is an old adage in the Quality Control fraternity, and it is accurate. When Quality Control reports to production, there is no quality control. The NYT is even worse. Byron Calame could be viewed as the NYT Quality Control Department. However, he doesn’t have any authority. In effect, the NYT’s Quality Control Department exists in a vacuum.

Not too surprising, considering the NYT’s accuracy.

Personally, I have never read an accurate NYT article on a topic I had first hand knowledge of.


Daniel @ Garanhuns Blog said...

the nyt is great fish wrap.. and it lines bird cages nicely too.. enjoy the pieces i read keep'em coming..

TOG said...

I used to use the NYT for source material for my classes, particularly op-eds. I always was able to find stuff that showed how wrong ostensibly smart people can be.

I suppose I shouldn't have started this blog. :-)

Robert Ferguson, Ph.D.
NRA Certified Instructor