Old Media Shown Up Again?

photo of newspaper displayMaybe the right side and left side of the brain just won’t get along. Or maybe the training is all wrong.

Over at The Irish Economy blog, the Irish Times newspaper drew flak for clumsy, lazy or clueless reporting of tax information released by the Revenue Commissioners, Ireland’s tax authorities. The blog post is here.

In a previous post, I discussed the efforts of organizations like Hacks / Hackers that seek to cross educate reporters and techies. Surely, given the enormous economic mess created in Ireland and elsewhere, it is time for a similar effort for financial reporters.

As discussed previously, the problem may lie in the mental makeup of typical journalists. The are predominantly right-brained, or creative, types. Tech and financial types would be left-brained thinkers i.e. more disposed towards logical thought.

But having one skill set should not preclude the ability — or the ability to acquire — an understanding of another set of skills. I mean, most journalists cut their teeth in town halls and courts. These include some very technical areas such as planning, and civil and criminal law.

In the meantime, we have the internet to help us read between the lines. But the Dublin newspaper’s goof up — top fold on the front page, no less — does itself no favors. Old media needs to be able to quickly recover from incidents like this. 

Mistakes on the internet can be quickly corrected. Mistakes in papers can be corrected the day after. If left untended to, however, a newspaper’s credibility will be quickly torn to shreds by detractors and fact fetishists. And if that keeps up, the existing fall in circulation begins to accelerate. Worse yet, mistakes — the fourth instance in this case — allowed to go uncorrected and widely publicized by the country’s leading economists are corrosive.

To the traditionalists with ink flowing through their veins, it seems unfair that a bunch of “upstarts” should have that power. But instead of sitting back or hand wringing, the newspaper should seize the initiative. It should continue the story on its site by explaining the background, noting the criticism and explaining their side of the story. Their people should have been on The Irish Economy blog doing the same thing and/or undertaking to avoid a repeat offense.

Image courtesy of Steve Rhodes on Flickr.