Sunday, February 29, 2004

What Do You Know, and How Do You Know It?

In this interesting article by the "Public Editor" at the New York Times, Daniel Okrent, the author provides a newspaper journalist's assessment of the journalistic behavior of a magazine writer. The magazine article, by Peter Landesman, writing for the Times Magazine, exposed an apparent epidemic of sex slavery trafficking in New Jersey, California and other states around the country. When it appeared in the magazine last month, the article generated a wave of skepticism and outcry from readers and other journalists alike, for its extreme conclusions and inflammatory language.

In his critique of the article and its writer, Okrent starts with an elegant demonstration how two people can "accurately" describe the same scene with completely different "facts". The rest of the article focuses more on the different standards on fact-checking generally accepted by newpaper and magazine journalists. He shows that how a journalist feels about an issue can directly influence the tone of the resulting article and more importantly, the depth of the research on which the article rests.

I found the article a valuable analysis of how journalism works, but also found Okrent's emphasis on the effect of the personal on the professional quite illuminating and relevant to gs concerns.

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