It's easy to say the Union-Tribune sucks. Pick any given day and there's usually at least one story that will make you spew your double shot amaretto latte across the breakfast table. Maybe it will be another day with nothing but wire copy on the front page. Or maybe it will be a small thing, like another blowjob profile on the new second-string cornerback for the Chargers in the sports section.
More often it's just a gut feeling, a sense that this is a paper on cruise control after it takes about three and a half minutes to whip through the entire paper. And, in that sense, it's no different than hundreds of other small town daily newspapers around the country that putter along, doing the job pretty much as they did it in 1957, when everyone loved Ike.
Quantifying the U-T's lameness is a trickier task.
But now it's easy to put a number on it, thanks to U-T "readers representative" Gina Lubrano. According to Lubrano, the U-T ran 676 corrections and clarifications in 2003, the most in the four years she's been keeping track. According to her account, it was a 4 percent increase from 2002.
"I can't prove it, but I suspect it's an all-time high," Lubrano wrote in her weekly column.
Among the 14 papers that shared information, the Oops-T ranked in the middle of the pack, with the Boston Globe reporting 1,223 corrections and that hard-chargin' Tennessean in Nashville reporting 321.
Lubrano, trying to soften the blow as much as possible, noted that correction policies differ tremendously from paper to paper, and "a small number" of corrections are the result of faulty information from sources or wire services
"It's not the numbers of corrections that newspapers run that are important," Lubrano wrote. "It's that they take credibility to heart and acknowledge to readers that an error has been made."
That's awfully sweet, but there are some readers who might actually appreciate a paper that's not constantly screwing up. Even with Lubrano's soothing tone, it's hard to mistake the number of corrections as anything but piss-poor performance. The paper is averaging almost two corrections a day. That's a jaw-dropping number.
While it is true the number of corrections is inflated by minor typos, it's also true that a vast number of errors go uncorrected, simply because no one felt it was worth the effort to call and bitch at the paper. That means, if anything, the number of corrections is only a percentage of the actual mistakes the paper is making on a daily basis.
If nothing else, the number is another stunning example of the rare blend of arrogance and laziness made famous by U-T editors. "Numerous" errors were "facts that could have been checked but weren't. Or not checked thoroughly enough," Lubrano noted.
Although Lubrano would never point fingers, that puts the blame squarely at the feet of the paper's notorious group of middle-level editors, a vast army of hacks who specialize in copping an attitude about their own importance. Most have never accomplished anything in journalism, except for a real snippy column for the "Hoboken Weekly" 18 years ago. They've devoted their careers to working their way up through the vicious ranks of the U-T copy desk, and have now achieved some measure of power, as long as editor Karin Winner is still in Tecate getting an herbal mudwrap.
The U-T newsroom is stuffed with these talentless Peter Principle cases. In a column about the Opinion page last year, Lubrano quoted no less than three different editors with some responsibility for dealing with letters, which is usually a task that can be handled by an intern in the mailroom.
These steely-eyed editors are supposed to be the final stop of factual accuracy, the guardians of the U-T's sacred integrity. They're the ones who are supposed to make sure everything is right before it gets into print.
Lubrano, a member of the dying breed of readers representatives, wasn't about to go down that road. Although the classic ombudsman was a foil for editors, challenging them on policy and coverage, Lubrano mainly "represents readers" by answering the phone and fielding complaints, typing up a correction when necessary.
Lubrano would never suggest that maybe the U-T copy desk should spend a little less time working on their memoirs and more time fact checking. She noted with humility that she herself recently misspelled a name. Of course, she failed to mention another embarrassing error she made last year, when she had to fess up to misusing Roman numerals in a column chastising a reporter for, er, incorrectly using Roman numerals.
In many ways, she is the perfect ombudsman for the U-T, a paper that rewards mediocrity. Lubrano's column wasn't exactly a clarion call for action. There was no mention of mass firings or brutal new systems to ensure that they would do a better in the future. The best Lubrano could offer was, "journalists should become aware of their soft spots and work to avoid repeating the same type of error," a statement which might seem fairly obvious to someone not employed by the U-T.
It's worth noting that for this column Lubrano didn't even trot out the usual well-crafted quote from editor Winner. There was no "Gosh darn, we'll do better" comment. Or even a "This is horrendous, I quit."
In fact, there was not a single quote from any staffer about the number of corrections. Apparently, none of the U-T's crack editors were available for comment.
Write to MsBeak1@aol.com and editor@SD citybeat.com.