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Tuesday, May 27, 2003

DATELINE-- Damn it



The Washington Post reports today that my writing hero, Rick Bragg, will resign from the New York Times. Actually, the word is quit. Resign just sounds to dainty for what's actually happening here.

This business sometimes makes my liver hurt. I've learned some things about my hero in the last few days. I was fully prepared to hate him if the facts ended up branding him a plagarist or something worse. As it turns out, he's a writer--and a damned good one--who participated in a little-known (at least outside the newspaper world) practice of "getting the dateline." In short, it was a technicality. Bragg collected bits of string from a variety of sources, wrote some stories on a plane en route to the dateline city, and then dictated the longhand text of some of his stories from the airport of said dateline cities. That is, he wore out his ass on airplane seats rather than wear out his shoe leather on America's southern streets. Why? I dunno. Common practice, maybe. Deadline pressure, more than likely.

It should be pointed out that we don't know how often this happened. More than likely, Bragg did a lot of reporting himself. Hell, I sat beside the guy in a hot, old-school wooden courtroom in Hattiesburg, MS for several days back in 1998. I know he did some serious reporting there.

We TV hacks may be just as bad. I can think of a number of times I have taken information from stringers, freelancers, associate producers, and news wires and plopped down on a news scene. Within minutes I'd be reporting the story and information others had collected. I don't mention in my reports that I'm reporting information collected by a variety of news sources. Is that dishonest? If it is, then I'm dishonest. If it is not, then Bragg is just like the rest of us and shouldn't be punished.

So, I don't know how to to feel about all this. I know I would like to see Jayson Blair work in a warehouse for the rest of his life. I know I would like to see Stephen Glass serve as Jayson Blair's butler. As for my hero, I feel like I'd like to hear more. Maybe some of my buddies in the newspaper industry can help me out with this one.

(And I guess, in this age of full disclosure I should point out... much of the information containted in this story comes from the reporting of Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post. The picture is courtesy of Random House. Blog service courtesy of Blogger. I typed this on a computer owned by a pretty big media conglomerate. I'm wearing a cheap, old suit from JC Penny. There.)

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