Wednesday, September 22, 2004

next stop, book deal

Are you paying attention, Remnick? I am flattered, but allow me a few words about "fact-checking."

Where I came from, "journalistic" more or less meant "not rigorous." Now, I have nothing against "journalists," and there is no need to take this personally, but there is a significant difference between "fact-checking" and "research." The former involves calling people to make sure you got the address right, or that the obviously fake "intel" provided by the obvious charlatan, is in fact, false. Research is something you do with books (remember those?), and it has its own rules, which are nearly as poorly understood. Both disciplines are important, and they should be practiced more.

Of course, editors and fact-checkers can make mistakes, and very few people who pay attention to these things will be suprised at the frequency at which they do. I'm going out on a limb here, but I rather doubt your average paper's food section is subjected to the same editorial scrutiny as an Economist article. Recent examples from excellent authors in two of our nation's better food sections include a minor mistake and misleading statement by Regina Schrambling and some confusion about farro in a Marian Burros article (and nearly everywhere else). In the latter case, the fact-checker's job was to confirm that the link to the inaccurate information was correct. It doesn't matter if you have an editor and a fact-checker if neither of them know what you're talking about.

Like everyone else, I have made mistakes. Presumably. I just can't remember any at the moment. But the goal of this enterprise is not to provide a reliable account of current events, but rather to tell you why they are stupid. And also to indulge in a limited degree of the "research" that is normally beyond the pale of "journalism." "Fact-checking" is more or less irrelevant to both of them: too rigorous for the former, not enough for the latter. And an editor would not let me call people douchebags with reckless abandon, which is basically the best thing about this site. People who rely on the internet for their knowledge of the world deserve what they get, but so do those who manage to amuse themselves on the internet. This is all very boring and, dare I say, obvious.

Signed,

semi-insane ranter

Update: If you invoke the Eurotrash-routine, you better be prepared to get arseholed, as they say. (The expression is either FORTRAN or Manx, I believe. It means CRUSHED™).

UPDATE, again: That long-archived article ["MEDIA DISH; Hot links to some edgy bloggers," Laurie Winer, Los Angeles Times (Sep 22, 2004)] read, in part:

The wildest, funniest stuff is found, not surprisingly, in the blogosphere's outer reaches, by people who come and go erratically ("Web page not found" or "link expired" are common messages when hunting for fun food stuff on the Internet). Here, bloggers bring the simmering antipathy between print journalists and themselves to full boil. A anonymous non-food blogger who takes the moniker "eurotrash" and the persona of a wild and foul-mouthed girl on the town is a Tama Janowitz for the new millennium. Her (his?) rantings on New York Times food writer Amanda Hesser are as unfair as they are hilarious (upsaid.com/eurotrash/ index.php?action=viewcom&id=243). This is the blog wilderness, defined by its distaste for mainstream journalism: The niceties do not apply here.

Closer to the center are more responsible -- though often disgruntled -- writers who maintain regular, dependable sites chock- full of useful information, albeit info that does not go through the same fact-checking as what you read in print (if any).

Strong opinions

If Julie Powell is the Laurie Colwin of the blog set, then mmw, the author of bad things (badthings.blogspot.com), is the A.J. Liebling -- an obsessive reader and critic of food-related literature, from this newspaper to the Western Farm Press to the National Academy of Sciences report on how federal agencies should assess the safety of genetically altered food (hence his links are unusually wide-ranging). He is tireless, opinionated and hectoring. Here's a characteristic rant: "Listen, yuppies: a tomato is not a good tomato simply because it is an 'heirloom.' ["Heirloom" links to a San Francisco Chronicle story on the glories of this kind of tomato.] A tomato is good because it is grown carefully in optimal conditions, with as little water as possible, picked ripe, and never refrigerated. Ninety percent of 'heirloom' tomatoes are just as revolting as the crap you get at the supermarket."

Mmw.... admits he does very little outside fact-checking; he describes blogging as "fake journalism."

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