Fall 2008 Fandom Miscellanea: The MSNBC Article

As a token unemployed American cub journalist, I’ll try to provide some constructive commentary about this MSNBC article and why articles of its sort pop up every so often.

The reality of the mainstream journalism industry in the U.S. today is that less and less staff writers are required to produce more and more stories on ever-shrinking deadlines. While I’m not sure of Alexander’s job status with MSNBC– “contributor” is a pretty vague term, contributing editor? Semi-regular freelancer?– it’s a reality that every mainstream journalist has a strict quota on how many articles they need to pump out. These “cultural” pieces are easy to do, usually sound really good and have pre-established sets of sources that you don’t even need to leave your desk to call up and interview. After that you can call it a day, easy bump to your story count. I know this for a fact, on my college newspaper we secreted fandom/subculture “Woah-check-this-out!” pieces all the time.

(This is, in essence, a shameless cross post from my personal weblog, but I think it’s interesting enough to show up here as well.)

Secondly, since my assumption is that MSNBC essentially functions like a daily news source, I’m guessing there was little to zero fact checking that went into this article. Another American journalism reality: only monthly magazines and publications with longer production times have the luxury of dedicated fact-checking staff. A daily newspaper makes the assumption that the reporter will fact check his or her own article, on risk of losing reputation for not doing so and being outed. Ostensibly, when the department editor(s) and copy editor make their passes over the article they are supposed to be making checks for factual accuracy as well. But how many copy editors at MSNBC do you think are read up on the deep thematic undertones of Legend of the Overfiend and Gurren Lagaan?

In episode #72 of the Anime World Order podcast, Macias mentions that he offered to fact check the article for Alexander. Placed in the same situation I would have made the same offer, but I would never have expected any real response in the affirmative. As a rule of thumb, the journalist never, ever accepts any offers of checks from “the outside,” especially if that offer came from someone who is a source in the actual article. It’s a bias thing. Simply mentioning to your editor that such an offer was made to you would likely get you in trouble (you’re supposed to totally ignore them)– taking up the offer and telling your editor after the fact and/or not telling them at all is usually grounds for instant dismissal, should your editor find out.

Of course, I don’t think these points totally redeem Alexander’s article. The misconceptions put forth as fact in it are bad enough, but what really gets me is the simple sloppiness. It is blatantly obvious to anyone who has taken an introductory news writing class that Alexander used the absolute minimum amount of sources: three. None of this is a slag on Kinsella, Eng or Macias, obviously all three are valid sources despite whatever marring of voice may have been done via misquotation etc. The fact is, however, that three sources is pitifully few to provide a holistic, unbiased view of such an expansive subject. Where are the interviews with book sellers? With local, ground-level fan clubs and artists? The fact that Kinsella, an anthropologist, is quoted a grand total of once and in a fashion suggesting an interview, when the attribution clearly indicates all Alexander did was read part of a book, is particularly lame.

I understand Alexander may not be a true-blue reporter per se and that Sexploration is in the column format. I can point you to the long, dry media law briefs from the Supreme Court that clearly state that opinion-based columns in any mainstream journalistic venue are beholden to the same basic requirements of factuality and non defamation that straight news articles follow.

In case anyone is suspicious about my own familiarity with this subject, I’ll have you know I typed out this entire response listening to Silent Survivor from the Fist of the North Star OST on loop.

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