From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Trust, But Verify

Creative non-fiction in the newspaper


It seems to be my week for writing about the local newspaper. My last post criticized WalMart for trying to steal the newspaper's classified ad business. Tonight, I'm feeling critical of the newspaper.

I'm disgusted that, against my better judgment, I trusted the Kentucky New Era (KNE) about something that was completely wrong. Fortunately, it wasn't anything of grave significance. It was just a bit of local historic trivia, but I don't like finding boldly-stated errors in the newspaper.

Last February, I wrote a blog article about the First City Bank renovation in Hopkinsville. I mentioned that, according to the Kentucky New Era, the building was constructed in the late 1800s.

Let me quote. The KNE article states, "The old bank building was constructed in the late 1800s." (Source: "Architects hired for old bank renovation," by Jennifer Brown, Kentucky New Era, July 18, 2003, subscription required)

I wrote in my blog article that I was surprised that the building was that old because it looks more modern. I had always thought it might be from the 1920s.

My estimate was very nearly correct. A well-researched book I purchased today states that the First City Bank building was completed in 1930, following the merger of three local banks that had survived the stock market crash of 1929. (Source: Hopkinsville & Christian County Historic Sites by Kenneth T. Gibbs and Carolyn Torma for the Kentucky Heritage Commission. Published by Gateway Trust, 1982.)

That sentence about the building being constructed in the late 1800s is tacked onto the very end of the KNE article. Obviously, the writer, Jennifer Brown, didn't take time to check that fact. So why throw it in there, then?

Jennifer Brown was promoted about a year ago to deputy editor at the Kentucky New Era. She has received various journalism awards, and she has a master's degree in creative nonfiction.

I expect accuracy in the newspaper, That's not too much to ask, is it? After all, if the newspaper isn't trustworthy in the small facts, can we trust it on the big stuff?

I feel moved to share a strange-but-true story. About ten years ago, the Kentucky New Era ran a long, locally-written article about an Arab sheik, and they called him a "chic" throughout the entire story. It was too awful to be funny.

(Tomorrow is my day off. Maybe I won't be so cranky in my next post.)

8 comments:

Pat - An Arkansas Stamper said...

You go, girl! I think it's perfectly *grand* for you to be cranky about this.

Michael Leddy said...

My wife and I were talking about this morning about this kind of problem. Interested laypersons often seem to be more careful readers than the editors who put out small-town papers.

Genevieve said...

Hi, Pat. Thanks for your encouragement. I think I'm going to leave a comment on the article that the date at the end of it is totally wrong.

Genevieve said...

Michael, some editor should have called her bluff on that vague date.

Lesa said...

Be cranky all you want when it comes to the New "Error", as we call it in my house! I never trust what they print in their articles especially when it comes to history or the local school system! Oh - don't let me get started in the local school system and the New Error - I could comment all night!

Genevieve said...

Hi, Lesa. Truly, I wish the newspaper well. I just want them to do a good job and get their facts straight, because after all, they're creating a record of what happens here.

ptg said...

The trouble with lazy researchers and irresponsible editors is that their flawed product becomes the cited source for new generations of 'research' until the errors become accepted facts. Keep holding their feet to the fire until they print a correction before this 'fact' finds its way into more research.

Genevieve said...

You're absolutely right about the errors becoming "facts", PT. I don't imagine they'll print a correction, though. It was published five years ago.

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