I wrote an item for Unfair Park yesterday in which I pointed out that The Dallas Morning News had done a poor job of informing its readers about post-Katrina critiques of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I cited the work of Professor Robert Bea, mentioned in 365 newspaper accounts around the country but not once in The Dallas Morning News, as far as I could tell. Today, News Metro columnist Steve Blow took me to task on Bold Types:
I don't know where Jim is doing his checking, but my two-second search of our archives found seven stories in this newspaper that quoted or mentioned Professor Bea and his study of the New Orleans levee system.
Potshots are so much more fun when you don't let facts get in the way.
In the comments section of my original item, The News' Jeffrey Weiss also posted a number of quotes from stories in which he says The News did indeed quote Bea. So, right off the bat what I need to do is a mea culpa. I am wrong. I take Weiss at his word.
However, there is a real mystery here.
A number of commenters on Bold Types told Blow they had searched for mentions of Bea in the news using The News’ Web page search function and had found none. Weiss says that’s because the quotes he found probably were hidden behind the paper's for-pay archive portal.
But I searched using Lexis-Nexis, the industry standard, and found no Bea quotes in The News. Later I took lines from the stories Weiss cited on our site and searched those through Nexis. I came up with zip again.
Nexis is supposed to be the entire record of its member newspapers, including the paper version of Unfair Park. In my experience, a story here and a story there will evade the Nexis net because of anomalies about where and when it ran in the paper, but I find it absolutely astonishing that none of the many stories cited by Weiss would have made it into Nexis.
I wonder this: Is Weiss sure the internal search mechanism at The News, available only to staffers, isn’t picking up stories from some kind of “spike” -- that is, the place where you put stories when you kill them instead of publishing them. Were these stories ever really in the paper?
Yeah, sure -- sounds like another one of my conspiracy theories. Probably is. But if they did run in the paper, then why doesn’t Nexis find any of these stories? If Weiss has an explanation, I’m all ears.
But don’t let me use all of that as an excuse. I said they never mentioned Bea. Weiss shows that they did. It was my job to prove up my assertion. Weiss has disproved it, and I owe an apology, so I give one.
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A last note, however: Steve Blow responded to his commenters with his own comment, as follows:
I'm the first to admit that our online archives are hard to search and too limited in scope. By his mention of 365 papers across the country, Jim obviously used some other external data base.
Yes, I used our internal archive system. But since Jim's wife works here, he certainly has access to it. And I'd think he would want to check it before making a pronouncement that we had never once quoted a prominent Katrina investigator. -- Steve Posted by: Steve | October 16, 2007 10:08 AM
My wife does indeed work for The News. This is the second time Blow has pointed that out in print. My wife happens to be a huge fan of Blow’s column and considers him a friend (her mistake, obviously). She and I literally do not discuss Steve Blow at home, because our views are so divergent. We don’t talk about the paper much either, for the same reason. It’s a balancing act and a fine line, but we walk it because we care about our jobs and we care about each other.
Blow’s suggestion that I would pirate my way into The News’ computer system through my wife’s connection with the paper is vile and low -- an attempt to hurt her more than me. I called and left him a voice mail to that effect today. This remark tells me everything I ever needed to know about the personality that lurks beneath the surface of Mr. Blow’s affable exterior. I owe Weiss the apology, not Blow. I owe Blow something else. --Jim Schutze