Can’t think of a more journalistic definition of skepticism. Now The New York Times public editor Byron Calame has redefined the mom-says version, saying, ‘when there’s a story that’s likely to make readers go “Wow,” it should be checked twice’. The world’s best known newspaper carried a ‘wow’ story recently. So did our own Star of Mysore. And neither had checked it out.
Irony is the story both newspapers mishandled had to do with aviation. They played it on Page One. Both newspapers got the facts wrong. And both ‘left the incorrect story unaddressed publicly’ (for a week, in the case of NYT). The NYT story pertained to Airbus supposedly planning an aircraft with ‘standing room’ only for economy class passengers. This way they could accommodate as many as 853 passengers. The story said the aircraft maker was pitching the idea to Asian airlines, for short-haul routes.
The Star of Mysore story referred to a state government official reportedly speaking of a proposal to develop an international airport in Mysore. A story that worked up our aviator blogger, Capt. Anup Murthy, to raise turbulence in a coffee tumbler.
Both stories had, what Calame would term, the ‘wow’ factor and made their way to the front page ‘hardly meeting a skeptical eye’ in their editorial staff. NYT didn’t seek Airbus comment on the stand-up seat idea. SoM failed to ask the bureaucrat any specific question on the feasibility of the supposed proposal for an international airport in Mysore. However, senior journalist Mr Gouri Satya in a blog comment said the Karnataka official, in apparent response to the SoM misreporting, made it clear the next day that her reference was to Mangalore, not Mysore.
Neither NYT nor SoM came out with a correction soon after their mistake came to light. Delayed correction had its fallout. The NYT story resulted in publication of the stand-up seat story in several other newspapers. In Mysore SoM’s misleading report was, presumably, the basis for a comment by a Singapore Airlines executive welcoming the idea of an international airport for Mysore.
After the NYT mess the last word came from its public editor, who wrote that the Times editors at all levels needed to pick up each story with the assumption that aspects of it, or even the central premise could be wrong. Readers deserve no less. (Italics are mine). Till the time of blogging this post we haven’t had a word from SoM by way of correction. Readers deserve a lot more.