Please read “Annals of Reporting” from today’s Talking Points Memo, in which Josh Marshall describes what looks like a classic example of journalistic malpractice.
Here’s the gist. Michael Skube, a former newspaper editor and Pulitzer Prize winner who’s now a journalism professor, wrote an opinion piece for the LA Times in which he flays bloggers for alleged violations of journalistic principles. In this case, Skube writes, bloggers show little willingness to do serious reporting: devoting “time, thorough fact-checking and verification and, most of all, perseverance” to the topic.
But the piece cites Marshall, whose work is among the best journalism — by any standard — that you can find on the Web in any form, in a passing reference, as if he’s one of the offenders.
Marshall takes this with careful calm, but then he reveals a stunning fact about Skube’s “reporting” style. An editor inserted the mention of Marshall, and Skube — who admitted to Marshall that he hasn’t “spent any time on your site” — let that run in the op-ed column. Marshall writes:
Actually, if you look at what he says, it seems Skube’s editor at the Times oped page didn’t think he had enough specific examples in his article decrying our culture of free-wheeling assertion bereft of factual backing. Or perhaps any examples. So the editor came up with a few blogs to mention and Skube signed off. And Skube was happy to sign off on the addition even though he didn’t know anything about them.
More amazing facts: Paul Jones, who teaches journalism and information science at the University of North Carolina (and writes an excellent blog), points me to this 2005 posting by Ed Cone, who cited an earlier Skube anti-blog rant and then asked Skube some questions:
Given his statement that blogs don’t do real journalism, I asked him what he thought about Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo. He remembered Marshall as a magazine writer, but was unfamiliar with his blog, or its new investigative-reporting plan.
I asked him to compare the original reporting model promised by Pajamas Media with the commentary-oriented approach of the Huffington Post. He told me he didn’t know either site.
So, apparently Skube — a journalism professor who has a loathing of blogs — was pointed to TPM almost two years ago, but never bothered to check it out.
Marshall writes, with fairness:
I grant you that the blogosphere needs better bloggers. But, as usual, the need for better critics seems even more acute.
The remaining big question in this episode: What will the LA Times and Skube himself do about this mini-travesty? At the very least, a major correction is in order. More appropriate would be an outright apology.