Sunday, September 24, 2006

About the Times Select . . .

Last week, we offered "The New York Times Doesn't Really Do Corrections" about "'West Wing' to West Coast: TV's Aueter Portrays TV" and wrongly stated there was no correction to the error. There was one, in print, on September 13th. (Twelve corrections. The correction was the eighth one.) A Common Ills community member contacted the paper about it and passed on to C.I. that a corrected was supposed to have run on the 13th (which it did) but that there was still no correction (as of Friday morning) to the article online. The member also passed that fact on to the editor who had replied to him.

The paper's now attached the correction (actually attached it twice):

Correction: September 13, 2006, Wednesday A listing in Arts & Leisure on Sunday in a preview of the new television season and an article in The Arts on Monday about Aaron Sorkin's new television series, ''Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,'' referred incorrectly to Amanda Peet's role in the series. She previously starred in ''Jack & Jill'' on the WB; her role in ''Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip'' is not her first on television.

Why does it matter?

Several reasons. First of all, reporters shouldn't jot down what their sources tell them and not check it out. Amanda Peet was not making her TV debut. Press-created 'geniuses' might wish to toss that out, but reporters need to check their facts.

It's certainly a self-pleasing tale, "Look at wonderful me. An actress with a thriving film career who just did Broadway [Barefoot in the Park] choose to come to television due to my creative genuis!" It's just not reality and it's so basic that the claim should never have made it into the paper. But the paper loves (and lives by) their official sources. One would wonder how many times they'll be burned by official sources before they decide to actually do the basic required?
(Answer, never.)

We could continue to list reasons but let's talk what the paper cares about most (after chi-chi parties), money.

It took a member of The Common Ills community stating the obvious to get the paper to what it should have done all along. (And don't kid otherwise. September 13th for print, September 22nd for online? Please.) That's a problem.

It's a problem for any daily, but it's especially a problem if you market your online archives as the research tool that any student would wet dream of or drool over. If students are using it, they need to trust that any correction noted to an article is right there on the article. When you provide/advertise the Times Select service as something parents should pay for, so that their kids can get the facts, you need to have the facts.

Let's hope some student didn't write a review for a class of Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip last week. They could have. They could have watched the show on Monday, pulled up The Times online for background to their assignment and written it up.

If they did, since Amanda Peet is the female star of the show, they might have felt the need to include something on the actress. There was Bill Carter telling them (as he was told) that Peet was making her TV debut. Let's hope, if they wrote that paper, the teacher didn't watch too much TV.

If s/he did, what do you think the marks on the paper would have read?

And what do you think the parents would have said when they saw their child's paper?

Mom: Why did you write that this actress was making her TV debut? Your teacher has scribbled all the shows she's been on in the margins next to "Do you work." Didn't you do any research?

Child: I did! I did!

Mom: Obviously, you didn't.

Child: That's what The New York Times said! I checked with The Times. Just like you and Dad told me to do! You said to use it to research, that you were paying all that money just so I could research my school work!

Mom: Now you just listen hear one minute before you try to push it off on the paper, they have a full page ad stating that they are a wonderful tool for students. Don't you try to pin that off on them!

[We thought of continuing this playlet up to "GUNSHOT -- Body falls." But we think you get the idea.]

If you're going to market yourself as a research tool (and charge money for it! Cedric got his nephew The Times select this summer just because of that marketing campaign), you need to do those corrections online as soon as you do them in print, not nine days after the fact.
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