The value of the certification is that it provides an element of oversight. An organization has to set out its objectives and the measures it will take to meet them. In order to retain its certification, an organization is audited once per year and then has to go through the full re-certification process every three years. If a newspaper were to, say, suddenly get rid of close to twenty copy editors and fail to adapt and create new quality-control processes, the audit will expose that, and the organization could lose its certification.
“If you notice an increase in the number of mistakes…then you will have to change the system that you apply,” Chenevière said. “In one case, we did a quality gap analysis [with a publication] in Peru and noticed what they had in place was a system where they would re-write every article to make sure they are well written. But they did not have an efficient system in place by which the author can re-read the re-writing.”
Chenevière said ISO certification helps provide a measure of external accountability that can be used to drive internal processes and accountability. On top of that, it encourages organizations to be transparent with the audience and community about their values and objectives. This, too, helps drive enforcement and accountability.
The problem is that quality certification is completely foreign to most newsrooms. In fact, the attitude towards standardization can be decidedly negative.
“I was speaking with someone at the Knight Foundation the day before I read your column and they said, ‘Your system is un-American,’” Chenevière told me. Indeed the idea of a centralized standardization body probably strikes many people in American journalism as something that could interfere with editorial independence, or add a layer of bureaucracy.
Chenevière admits that it often takes years of patient explanation and collaboration for a news organization to sign onto his program. But he also emphasizes that they don’t go around removing stars like some kind of haughty Michelin inspector.
“We’re not going to the BBC and saying, ‘You just lost one star because of the Kelley affair,’” he says. “They would throw us out the window.”
On top of that, the executive with alligators on his back is far from alone in thinking that he doesn’t have time to step back and address the root of the problem.
“They say it’s not time to talk about such things,” Chenevière said. “But they are wrong.”
Correction of the Week
IN her letter published in the Echo last Friday, Mrs Marion Smith talked about the loss of her husband after 58 years of marriage and the importance of a supportive, loving family.
She said “his life was hell and his death released him from it”. In preparing the letter for publication, we edited out the fact that Mrs Smith’s husband had suffered from Alzheimer’s in later years. We are happy to clarify this point. — South Wales Echo