Tuesday, February 16

Kneading Accuracy: When You Slip, Eat It


I'm writing today's post poolside in Las Vegas. And Las Vegas, in case you don't know, is only a few miles from the West Virginia border. The weather here is a balmy 100 degrees and the water is a cool 72, just cold enough to preserve the crispness of my locally brewed Fosters Lager.

You know, it's the kind of day that makes you wonder why Susan Boyle would have ever left her Las Vegas hometown to become a famous singer in the United Kingdom. We all miss her so much. My parents used to eat cactus cobbler pie with her on their front porch, mostly to get a better view of the kangaroos that roam wild here.

What?

Susan Boyle is not from Las Vegas, you say? Las Vegas is nowhere close to West Virginia? Kangaroos are not native to Nevada?

Well, never mind all that because this post was going to be about unemployment so the rest of the content is relative. To someone in China, Nevada might as well border West Virginia, Boyle ought to play Las Vegas, and kangaroos are close enough to burros for me to claim creative license. Besides, it would be a shame that any critics would correct me, detracting from the central and most important issue. You think?

How A Lesson In Accuracy Amounts To A Lesson In Criticism.

No, this isn't another post to pile on Susan Arbetter, a reporter for WCNY, who claimed accuracy was relative after Bill Sledzik, associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Kent State University, corrected a few errors in a post meant to promote her radio show on gas drilling and the budget deficit.

After being called out, Arbetter offered up a slew of excuses and justifications on Sledzik's blog as well as her own. It's especially interesting to me because I had planned to underscore the importance of accuracy to my class the very next day.

Specifically, I said to them, accuracy matters above all else. It is wisdom passed on to me by professor Jake Highton at the University of Nevada, Reno, almost 20 years ago.

Still, while it's so very important, I think accuracy has been addressed well enough in the comments on Tough Sledding by Sledzik. Instead, I keep thinking about the other lesson to be learned. And I think, for journalists and anyone who writes direct-to-public content, it's an important one.

We all make mistakes. And while some of us are not inclined to make them purposely as Arbetter seems to have done, it does demonstrate that how we handle our mistakes is often more telling than the mistakes. Sometimes, it pays to listen when someone points them out. Often, it pays to pause before flying off the handle. And almost always, it pays to lighten up.

The better response from Arbetter would have been to thank Sledzik. She could have simply said "Gee, Bill, thanks so much." And then went on to explain how we all construct memories that may be one or two steps shy of the truth. Or perhaps, given the Rolling Rock error, that sometimes busy reporters add in color from erred online sources, and then accidentally reinforce those myths. Or maybe, she could have provided some semblance of whatever the truth might have been.

The issue would have died right there as a win for everyone. It might have even read like a professional courtesy. Instead, the whole affair has led some people to wonder why Arbetter doth protest too much. Perhaps there is more prose filled in fiction to be found. I dunno. I didn't look.

I've written before on how to manage criticism. And recently, Amber Nuslund offered her advice on when to take conversations private. And after reading this flare-up over accuracy, I might add one more to the five points in my old post.

6. Thank any critics who point out red devil’s food cake on your chin.

It gives you an opportunity to wipe it away before it stains your shirt. After all, the reality of the situation is this: it wasn't Sledzik who did Arbetter a disservice as she claims. It was all those readers who may have cared about those errors, just not enough about Arbetter to let her know. Nope. Those folks just moved on, leaving the red devil’s food cake to spread and stain.

*Just so there is no confusion, most of what I wrote in the opening paragraphs is not true. Heck, I don't even know if red devil’s food cake can stain a shirt. But what I do know, thanks to Bill, is not to put the owners of Eat ‘n Park on the spot for a beer."

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