Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What's Wrong with this Picture?

The great potential and strength of digital media is in its incredible ease of and speed of creation and distribution. The great weakness of digital media is in its incredible ease of and speed of creation and distribution. Consider this item from the the front page of this morning's philly.com.So, what's wrong with that? Writer Stephan Salisbury does a good job of explaining a fairly complex issue without getting too bogged down in the politics. That's not the problem. It's that damn picture. Ignoring the obvious question of why they would choose an AP file photo, when they have a staff of world-class photographers and extensive archives, there's something wrong with that photo. Something is missing....a couple somethings, really.

That image is at lest 3 years old, and probably more. Philadelphia's skyline has undergone a significant transformation since then.

It's understandable that someone might not notice the absence of the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton. The welcome replacement to the hulking scar of One Meridian Plaza is easy to overlook, being tucked in alongside City Hall's tower and Billy Penn. Harder to miss is the absence of the Comcast Center. At 975 feet, the building dominates the Center City skyline.
Quite a difference, don't you think? Is it a huge mistake? No, but it is the sort of thing probably never would have made it into either the Inquirer or Daily News. Before anything goes into a newspaper it gets passed before several sets of eyeballs. It's all about accuracy, clarity and quality. It's about preventing stupid mistakes like this from happening.

In most digital media outlets there is very little, and often nothing, standing between the content creator and the "Publish" button. More troubling, it seems mistakes are not taken as seriously in digital media. Even after the problem with the skyline photo was pointed out, the picture remained unchanged until the story was bumped off the front page well over an hour later.

Online, mistakes are ephemeral--update the story, and the mistake is gone. Unless someone does a screen grab of your page, or it get's cached, the gaffe is soon forgotten. That is a luxury print reporters just don't enjoy. Screw the pooch in print, and the evidence is on doorsteps and mailboxes, and someone somewhere is likely to stash away, perhaps to show up on eBay in the future. Even television isn't immune these days with the possibility of errant reporting living on in perpetuity on YouTube.

Of course, just because mistakes in digital journalism don't hang around to haunt you does not mean they are somehow less important. That's missing the point. The point of journalism is getting it right for the sole sake of getting right--even the little things. Being honest and, to the best of your ability, presenting a factual picture of the world.

In the transition to digital media there has been a tendency to throw the baby out with the bath water. To do away with whole levels of editors because the technology has made them redundant, though it can't replace their oversight. Style, usage, judgment and an eye for detail are now secondary to HTML and Photoshop skills. Getting it out there is more important than getting it right. I've come to expect that mentality from aggrerators like Drudge and Huffington Post where there is little sense of ownership to the content, so long as it supports their agenda. It's more troubling to see it cropping up around publications I trust and respect.

Yes, print media is going to have to make the transition to digital to survive, but if it leaves its core values behind when it does, what's the point?

No comments: