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Sunday: June 12, 2005

Journalistic Malpractice

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:13 PM UTC

Orin Judd (The Brothers Judd) quotes an interesting story from the Valley News about some Dartmouth students, including one named Callie Thompson. One passage in particular caught my eye:

She and a small group of classmates protested the war in Iraq during a “die-in” in November of 2002. Clad in black clothing, Thompson and the other students wore signs numbering the potential casualties in the Iraq war, and fell down on floors and tables in the food court and the Collis Center. They lay there simulating death for about an hour, until a student called campus security and reported them as a fire hazard, Thompson said.

Two omissions ought to embarrass any newspaper:

1. The first is more general: what valley does the Valley News, “the news source of the upper valley”, cover? I spent a good ten minutes on the site, and still don’t know for sure. The news is partly from Vermont, partly from New Hampshire, so I thought it must be the upper valley of the Connecticut River, which flows between the two states. (Who says Americans don’t know geography?) But the mailing address is in White River Junction, Vermont, so then I though it might be the news source of the upper valley of the White River, which I’d never heard of. I consulted an atlas, and found that the White River flows through Vermont and joins the Connecticut near White River Junction. So most likely the valley in question is the Connecticut after all. When will newspapers realize that their webpages need to provide basic information about location? When you see a newspaper box full of copies of a small-town paper, it’s not too hard to tell what area it covers — the area you’re standing in, or somewhere close by. But anyone in the world can link to a webpage, and it helps if new arrivals can tell where they are (virtually speaking) without having to click on three different subpages and then consult Rand McNally.

2. The second omission is specific to the quoted paragraph, and shameful rather than shortsighted. The Valley News’ reporter, Jessica T. Lee, does not tell us what number of “potential casualties” the protestors displayed. If they gave an estimate for the number of anticipated U.S. military casualties, I would be willing to bet that it was at least 3,000, and not at all surprised if it were 10,000 or more. Administration supporters are routinely called liars and worse when things turn out differently from their predictions; opponents are not even called mistaken.