The plight of copy editors at newspapers and other publications was a much-discussed topic in 2009. I decided to shine a light on a less-discussed group of newspaper employees who have also seen their numbers thinned in recent years: research librarians, also known as news librarians. I wrote about their role—and disappearance—in the newsroom. Here’s how Leslie Norman, a former news librarian at the Wall Street Journal, explained the importance of what they do:
Reporters are on deadline and they want to do things as quickly as possible. Over years, they’ve come to feel, ‘I can do my own research, I don’t need an intermediary anymore.’ Some of the problem with that is they don’t have time to get the best research if they do it themselves. Also, because of the amount of information out there, they may not have the understanding or wherewithal to go through and filter out what’s good and what isn’t.
This quote from a guest post by entrepreneur Ben Elowitz on PaidContent.org inspired me to write a column in response:
The old rules of quality prize correctness and are unforgivingly intolerant of errors in reporting. They are deeply invested in rigorous fact-checking; multiple source corroboration; and correct spelling of proper nouns. I’ve given interviews to old-media outlets where I’ve spent more time on the phone with the fact checker than with the reporter.
But of all the above offerings, I have to say that none of them rank as the most notable quote from a year’s worth of columns. That distinction goes to Axel Pult, a former fact checker who is now the deputy head of the checking and research department at Der Spiegel in Germany. While visiting their offices earlier this year to attend a fact checking conference, I discovered that the venerable German weekly is home to a remarkable checking operation. Here’s what Pult told me when I asked him about the size of the operation:
There are seventy people checking the facts, but also some people are working on handling the database and doing indexing, and stuff like that. It’s almost 100 people, although some of the people only work part-time. It’s not 100 people working full-time. You can say about eighty full-time jobs.
Eighty full-time jobs for fact checkers and researchers! Nine months later, I still can’t believe it. Perhaps that’s a nice thought to enter the new year with. See you in 2011.
Correction of the Week
“A front-page story Sunday about a Buchanan High School wrestler accused of sexual battery said the ‘butt drag’ maneuver involves a wrestler putting fingers in his rival’s anus to get leverage. There’s no formal definition of the move, but coaches say it involves grabbing the butt cheek of a rival. Coaches vary on how often anal penetration occurs, but they say that it should never be intentional. The move does not involve skin-on-skin contact; the wrestler practicing the move is pushing his fingers against his opponent’s uniform.
“In addition, stories about the case on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday incorrectly said the wrestler had been expelled. He has been suspended pending an expulsion hearing.” - Fresno Bee