Thursday, April 23, 2009

Can we afford fact checkers?

I was interviewed recently by Mark Lacter, the former editor of the Los Angeles Business Journal for a piece he is writing about the Los Angeles Times for Los Angeles magazine. (There are a lot of Los Angeleses in that sentence).

A few weeks after the interview, I received a call from a woman who identified herself as a "fact checker" for the magazine; she wanted to confirm a few facts in the article--most were right, a few needed to be tweaked.

It all seemed so quaint.

Who has time and the finances to support a fact checker? Not in the current world of immediate blogging. We rely on "user generated content" online, in real time, to correct the "facts."

Way back in 2003, in the July/August issue, the Columbia Journalism Review, ran a piece by a "fact checker" that explained how necessary it was for even that reputable magazine to have fact checking. Ariel Hart wrote that in her three years of fact checking, she had never found an article without errors, and that the piece with the most errors was one from a Pulitzer Prize winner.

It turned out that the article she "fact checked" with the least errors was "written by a former Los Angeles Times lawyer." (Yup, that was me.)

As the magazine business model changes, the few remaining fact checkers will be eliminated from newsroom budgets, if they haven't been already. Which will eventually make the magazines no more credible that a web site, I suppose. (But without the corrective impact of online comments!)

Yet, another reason that the print model will slowly wither away.

What do you think?

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