Journalists for major news outlets can take advantage of a slew of resources – professional researchers, copy editors, established style guides, and thousands of contacts to make their products as polished and error-free as humanly possible. They can easily do fact-checking and most of the time their work is reviewed by several pairs of eyes before it is published.
As an amateur journalist, I don’t have the same resources at my disposal as does, for example, Paul Mulshine, who works for one of the largest and most comprehensive news outlets in the state of New Jersey. Mulshine must have a fantastic research staff. He recently commented on a blog post of mine, and immediately concluded that I had gone to public school. I commend his research staff in their ability to ferret out this fact, especially given that I write my blog under a pseudonym and it’s been a half century since I attended public school.
Mulshine intimated that because I went to public school, I must have had an inferior education. After all, in the blog post that he refers to, I misspelled the name of New Jersey Assemblyman Jack Conners, using an “o” instead of an “e” in the legislator’s name. Neither I nor my “copy editor” caught this error, but the blame for the mistake falls on my shoulders. I’m impressed that Mulshine’s research team got it right. I did go to public school. But I think I received a damn good education. I graduated from high school at age 17 and went on to earn an engineering degree from a public university – a wonderful institution in the Garden State called Rutgers. That education served me in good stead, and prepared me for a 40+ year career with a major defense contractor as well as enabling me to successfully complete the requirements for a post-graduate engineering degree (alas, at a private school in New York State.) For those not familiar with Paul Mulshine, he is a conservative commentator. I’m happy that he reads the liberal blogs that I write for. But I’m disappointed that he chose to publicly berate my education on what is a real, but trivial, error on my part. Last night, I had the occasion to meet the subject of my faux pas, Assemblyman Jack Conners. I related the story to the assemblyman about my spelling error and Mulshine’s comments. Ever gracious, Conners told me that his name has been the subject of misspellings for generations. He even mentioned that because their names are similar, he has often been confused with the other legislator from his district, Herb Conaway. I was glad to have had the chance to meet Conners, shook his hand, and wished him well in his planned retirement after the current Assembly session adjourns. Since I write from the left, and Mulshine writes from the right, we often have different views on the topic of the day. That’s great. I never expected my blog postings to be the subject of comments from a legitimate journalist, and I wish Mulshine would have chosen to comment on substance rather than typos. I have a very conservative friend who often comments on my blog under the name “Glen H.” Glen and I rarely agree on anything, but I enjoy the back-and-forth discussions we have, both on line and at a monthly current events forum that we both attend. The difference between Glen (who is not a professional journalist, either) and Paul, is that Glen’s comments have substance. They are often fact-based, and raise legitimate challenges to my opinions. This type of push-back from Glen is valuable. It makes me a better writer, causes me to re-think my position – sometimes requiring me to add nuance or modify my thinking – and less often than I would like, helps me and Glen find some common ground. The amateur, Glen, makes me a better writer. The professional, Paul, in his comments, epitomizes what’s wrong with mainstream journalism today.