Slate great amazes the elders: Remember when Jesus amazed the elders, sitting right there in the temple?
Last Thursday, a bright young kid over at Slate pretty much did the same thing.
The scribe in question is Susan Matthews, Slate's science editor. In her piece, she critiqued an on-line report by the New York Times concerning climate change.
"Critiqued" the piece? She left it for dead! In the process, Matthews did so many things right our analysts almost lost count.
Did we mention the fact that Matthews challenged the New York Times in her piece? You may have thought that, by law, that's never done. Slate's headlines looked like this:
The New York Times’ Coal Miner Interview Is Why We Won’t Stop Climate ChangeOur analysts loved the fact that she challenged the Times—and they loved her sense of doom.
Journalists must serve facts, not emotions.
Did we say that Matthews challenged the Times? In fact, she challenged a ranking Timesman—challenged him by name.
Truly, this is never done—and land o' goshen, look who she picked! This is the way she started:
MATTHEWS (3/30/17): The problem with journalism, we were told after the election, is that we in the media focused too much on the facts and too little on the people, their stories, and their feelings. Coastal elites holed up with their precious data and forgot about the middle of the country.Good God! Why don't other journalists do it like this, our gobsmacked analysts asked.
So on the Thursday installment of the New York Times’ daily podcast, host Michael Barbaro attempts to do his part to fix this problem. His plan? To interview a coal miner named Mark Gray. It’s a miraculous 10 minutes of radio, ending with Barbaro crying while realizing that he really doesn’t understand coal country at all, and perhaps if he just visited a mine he would have an entirely different perspective on the situation.
It is emotional and compelling storytelling. But it isn’t the kind of journalism we should prioritize going forward. In fact, it’s irresponsible to the point of bordering on unethical.
I don’t blame the coal miner. I blame Barbaro.
We have a few complaints. For ourselves, we don't think Barbaro's audio piece was even good storytelling, let along a "compelling" example of same.
That said, Matthews broke every rule in the book as she composed her piece. Graded on a curve, her piece is nonpareil. It ought to be the norm.
You can read the piece yourself to see the things Matthews has done. Basically, he let a misinformed miner repeat all kinds of crap without ever telling Times readers that his statements were factually wrong.
We're going to repeat a key basic point—Matthews challenged a major Times player by name. This is simply never done within the careerist press corps.
We're going to mention something else Matthews did. She composed a thoroughly competent, accurate transcript of several parts of Barbaro's interview with the misinformed miner.
That may seem like a journalistic given. It's very rarely done.
We'll offer one more semi-critique. Matthews says Barbaro is "crying" by the end of his interview with the misinformed miner. She says that in the passage we've posted. She says it again in her transcript.
(Note the way Matthews handles the misinformed miner. She tells us that he's misinformed, but then she kicks up, not down.)
Was Barbaro crying by the end of his telephone session? We're not sure we'd make that claim quite so unambiguously. But based upon the aural evidence, it's hard to say that Matthews' statement is wrong. For unknown reasons, it sounds like Barbaro's blubbering by the time the interview's done.
(Sneaking suspicion: The Times has started personalizing itself in pages A2 and A3 of its hard-copy editions. They're presenting some very silly work. This may have been part of the package.)
Deference to major news organs has long been a serious sickness of the mainstream press. People are dead all over the world because careerist strivers have refused, for the past thirty years, to challenge the work of such major orgs. Amazingly, you never see journalists do what Matthews did in this piece.
Final point: Susan Matthews isn't a graybeard on her way to retirement. She's in her sixth year out of Dartmouth. In the eyes of the world, she's still a kid on the way up. She proves that younger journalists can produce the kind of competent, challenging work you'd normally expect to see from a dissatisfied class of younger practitioners.
The last time someone broke the rules this way, it was Katherine Boo in the Washingtonian. In 1992, Boo warned the world, at considerable length, about the growing journalistic menace she described as "creeping Dowdism."
Boo was a rising young journalist then. Today, she's been relegated to the junk heap—to the class of people forced to write serious books.
The guild knows how to deal with her type. They hand awards to Boo's serious books, then ignore every word she has said.
At any rate, Matthews got it right last week. As long-time readers will surely know, we've rarely said that around here!
Susan Matthews got it right. She won't be mistaken for Chris!
The Barbaro school of journalism: As you may recall, we've been down on Barbaro since 2011, when he joined with Ashley Parker to wrote a front-page profile of Candidate Romney's hair stylist.
You say they were assigned to do that? We push such piddle aside!