Sic to my stomach

The headline read, “In rush to be first, CNN, Fox initially get it wrong.” The June 29 story in the San Antonio Express-News recapped how the cable news networks first erroneously reported the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare.

The fairly short article had no fewer than two authors, Dan Freedman and Elizabeth Traynor. Perhaps a third would have caught this mistake found about three-fourths the way in:

“Among the viewers initially taken in by the flub: President Barak (sic) Obama.”

Sic is Latin for “thus”. The word is added in quotations like these to communicate that an error is merely transcribed as originally written. The full Latin phrase is “sic erat scriptum” or “thus was it written”.

Thus, in an article about how the media was in too much of a rush to catch a mistake, the media was in too much of a rush to catch a mistake. While all sic-inducing errors make me sick to my stomach, the irony of this sic makes it particularly nauseating.

What shall we do with this fourth estate we call the modern media?!? Before I burn them at the stake, I will recognize their plight.

No industry has changed more in the past two decades than theirs. A friend told me last week that he recently got a job with The Oklahoman, a statewide newspaper in the Sooner state.

I told him I hadn’t heard of someone getting a job in news publishing since The Help. All I’ve heard about are layoffs, page narrowings and shrinking circulations.

These trends are, of course, driven by the splintering of traditional media by the Internet, digital  technologies, talk radio and cable TV, even the affordability of high quality paper printing. The barriers to entry have largely fallen.

Media incumbents have fought hard to find shelters from the storm. For example, many major urban papers have tried localized editions in the suburbs that depend on user-generated content.

Having limited success with its version, TribLocal, the Chicago Tribune has outsourced some of its “hyperlocal” news gathering to Journatic, a company that specializes in producing localized content for publishers. Journatic has come under fire of late for falsities and plagiarism.

The original television networks face similar struggles for relevance. Unscientific statistic: more people watch Wheel of Fortune re-runs than the networks’ nightly newscasts.

Loss of trust seems to be a core issue. Is what I’m consuming news or political partisanship designed to sell me an ideal? Is it news or infotainment designed to keep me watching through the next commercial break?

Skeptically, we gravitate toward sources that share our particular perspectives. The thinking: “They may be selling something, but at least it’s something I want to buy.”

I don’t mind those like-minded sources. I even enjoy them from time to time.

But I still wish for sources whose sole mission is the truth; sources who approach a story as a judge approaches a jury trial; sources with journalistic integrity and commitment to excellence; sources that deliver fairness, depth and correct spellings of the names of world leaders.

Yes, everyone is allowed an occasional mistake. But when your industry is in turmoil in general, and a credibility crisis in particular, you’re allowed them a little less occasionally than most.

Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.


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