Friday, August 24, 2007

+1 for the experts

After my last post you will find me profoundly unsurprised at PZ Myers pointing to a science journalist's mangled account of some paleontology reporting.

What's interesting is that the headline here was especially egregious, and it's generally editors who write headlines, not the reporters. This parallels the Michael Skube case, where the editor suggested some of the factually incorrect insertions to Skube's article.

One of the structural advantages claimed by proponents of old-style journalism is that editors impose quality control. And editors may be extremely valuable when they are subject matter experts --- for example, at scientific journals, where the editors have roughly the same credentials as the researchers. But in journalism, an editor's typically a generalist who knows even less than the reporter about the subject at hand. At least the reporter talked to the primary sources. If reporters work from secondhand knowledge, then editors do their work based on thirdhand knowledge. Why should we believe that editorial review by non-expert editors improves news coverage more often than it degrades it? Editors may improve the quality of the prose, but do they really, on average, improve the accuracy of the articles?

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