Friday, September 21, 2007

Lost... and found

"I miss the blog. Enough said," Cheryl wrote in an e-mail a few weeks ago.

"It's been over a month... new post?" Tara e-mailed a few days ago.

So, here I am. I've been negligent, obviously, but for many reasons. All will sound like excuses so I won't bore you with the details. But I will say it involves a heavier-than-normal work schedule, a slew of addictive online games and a sick cat who refuses to want to get better. Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

I actually come here to inform you the set of links on the right has been slightly changed. The more astute of you will notice that Patrick Smith's column on Salon, Ask the Pilot, is no longer linked.

I freely admit I am no professional pilot. Though I have better knowledge than most about what it takes to fly a plane, my knowledge pales in comparison to real pilots. Hell, it pales in comparison to some of my friends at United Virtual. I recognize my limitations.

Mr. Smith is a pilot first; thus he is one of those folks with a lot more knowledge on flight than me. He's also a part-time journalist, writing that column for Salon. I'd like to think my journalistic knowledge would eclipse that of Mr. Smith, but apparently I'm wrong.

Seems lately the media can do no right for Mr. Smith. Two of the past three weeks, he's found it necessary to take a shit on the media - the mainstream media, of course, which seemingly can do no right for no one.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Smith wrote about the oft-replayed fire of a China Airlines jet burning after arriving at an Asian airport. The headline: "Lessons from a burning plane: What the media didn't tell you about a near disaster in Asia." We know where this is going.

Summing up Mr. Smith's complaints: An AP story generically referred to "the pilot" doing this or doing that, when in fact there are two crew members on the flight deck; the hype and overstatement of anchor comments as the replays aired on the networks (shocking! We've never seen that before); a CNN anchor mistakenly refers to the 737 as a big plane and the airline as "China Air." One of these is factually incorrect (the fourth); another, admittedly, could use more clarification (the first); the other two are merely opinion, one more agreeable than the other.

Calling a 737 a big plane isn't entirely accurate, but it's not entirely inaccurate, either. It's certainly no comparison to a 747 or a 777, but compared to a regional jet or personal aircraft, it's pretty big. At some point in the past - and I apologize for not being able to find a link - Mr. Smith even wrote that when you get down to it, the size of even a 737 is impressive; that idea, though, has largely been lost because of jetways and the air travel's loss of innocence in the public's mind.

I left a note for Mr. Smith, detailing some of these concerns. I told him I didn't think it was fair for me to comment on the CNN and TV critiques, since that's not really my area of expertise. Mr. Smith wrote back saying that wasn't fair, and apparently it's too much to ask to a reporter to get every single detail right. No, it's not, but if that's how he wants to read it, I don't believe I can change his perception. It's his column, and I'm happy to give him the final say, so I left it at that.

But it takes a little more to get me really pissed off. Two weeks later, and Mr. Smith writes about the latest media ball-dropping (though without such a suggestive headline this time). You'll find my beef at the end of page 1 (this great line: "While we're at it, let's hit the newspapers and clarify a few other distortions.") and on the top of page 2.

Mr. Smith mentions AP reporter Audra Ang, who reported on the Phuket crash of a One-Two-Go Airlines jet. In order, Mr. Smith takes issue with: a quote from the director general of the Thailand's Air Transport Authority; the validity of accounts from those on the plane; and a statement in the story that Smith admits is true.

So, in order:

Mr. Smith doesn't like the summation given by Chaisak Angsuwan, who claims the plane appeared to have "lost its balance and crashed." Mr. Smith says balance is no factor for flight, thus it's an incorrect statement. But I ask you, Mr. Smith, what was the reporter to do? Modify the quote to reveal its inaccuracy? Change the quote? Man, that would really give Salon the rest of the anti-MSM crusade something to howl about.

Leaving the quote out isn't much of an option; the guy's in charge of Thai airways. The buck stops with him. He's supposed to be an authority; clearly his statement calls his credibility into question. But that's not the reporter's problem. Our challenge is to tell you what happened and what people said about what happened; you, the reader, are smart enough to figure out if the guy's legit or full of shit.

The second verse, same as the first. If eyewitnesses and people on the plane told this to the reporter, how is she not to believe it? Again, do you misquote people because you don't believe the accuracy of their claims? Of course not. You quote them and let the reader decide.

Third verse: Mr. Smith admits this statement - "Many budget airlines use older planes that have been leased or purchased after years of use by other airlines." - is true, but still seems to have a problem with it. Does its inclusion leave the reader with a certain impression? Perhaps, but it's all about what you read into it. Mr. Smith says that older planes aren't necessarily less safe than newer ones; but he fails to mention they also need more care. Me, personally, I'd feel better about riding on a 1982 MD-80 from American - which I know has the personnel and engineering to keep these planes safe - than I would from a regional carrier in certain parts of the world.

I know, this has gone on way too long for most of you. But I'll end it with this: Mr. Smith is fortunate enough to be able to have a side job where he writes about a field he is an expert in; there can be no question of that. His columns run once a week; he can write on Monday or Wednesday or Thursday if he wants.

But his disconnect seems to come from the fact that general assignment news reporters aren't necessarily aviation experts. I'd also assert that deadline reporting is harder than it looks.

I challenge him to go cover any Red Sox game for the Boston Globe. Write an early feature, an early notebook, a standing notebook, a full-quote game story and an updated notebook. And to get everything accurate, to the T. No mistakes.

It's not as easy as you'd think.

No comments: