I was flipping through my Wall Street Journal this morning when I noticed something unusual. Buried deep in the paper’s Weekend section was a long list of names that took up a full half page and featured, at the top of the column in small type, that bashful word “CORRECTION.”
I looked more closely. The list was apparently a new version of one that had appeared a month ago in the same section, as the centerpiece to a cover story titled “How to Get Into Harvard” about how different elite high schools around the country fared in placing graduates at elite colleges. Now, there are myriady ways one could take issue with the premise of such a piece. But now it appears that, on its own terms, the article’s ranking was totally screwed up. Today’s Journal publishes a new list that is substantially different from the first one, and much expanded.
I assume that, upon the appearance of the first list, the Journal was inundated with complaints and questions from those fancy private schools that, for one reason or another, failed to make the list. (The one I attended many years ago, Horace Mann School in New York, was absent from list number one, but made it to the bottom of the corrected ranking.) For better or worse, this sort of ranking means everything to these schools and the parents who pay fortunes to send their kids to them. Surely the Journal’s editors knew that; heck, they probably send their kids to the same schools.
So strike one against the paper was simply fumbling such a predictably emotional piece of research. Presumably the paper knew of the problem within a matter of days, if not hours. Strike two is for not publishing an immediate notice that the original list was going to be disavowed and replaced. (At least I never saw such a notice, and I’m a regular reader.)
But the third strike-and-out goes for the way the Journal buried this massive correction. The original story gets front-page play; the correction turns up on page 7, under a tiny header. (It is similarly difficult to find on the Journal web site.)
The authority of the professional media is under massive assault today for all sorts of reasons, many legitimate, many not. But some of the most gaping wounds are self-inflicted. Twenty, 30 years ago, maybe a publication could get away with this sort of sweep-it-under-the-carpet defensiveness. Today, it just looks ludicrous. If you blow a front page story, you should admit it on the front page. Even if it’s “just” the Weekend section.
[tags]media, corrections, wall street journal, high schools[/tags]
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