- - Wednesday, January 7, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Vox.com, the much-ballyhooed website aiming to make journalism better and to explain the news, has a major problem. It makes a lot of mistakes.

Liberal wunderkind Ezra Klein left The Washington Post and his “Wonkblog” last year to become editor-in-chief of the news website, which is part of Vox Media’s stable of The Verge, SB Nation, Eater and others.

Vox.com has compared news to “vegetables” and the site’s mission is to make information more interesting and palatable by roasting it “to perfection with a drizzle of olive oil and hint of sea salt.”

But it seems Vox.com needs a bit more than this recipe. In a recent article, “46 Times Vox Totally F****d Up A Story,” Kevin Draper of Deadspin chronicled major corrections.

“What makes Vox unique is not their errors, but the magnitude of those errors,” Mr. Draper wrote.

Some of the foul-ups included reporting on a nonexistent bridge between Israel and Gaza, erroneously stating that the 2014 winter solstice would be the longest night in history (1912 was the year) and miscalculating basic mathematical formulae.

“I don’t know what the solution to Vox’s problem is. Maybe it’s just not possible to have 20-somethings write interestingly and accurately about hard news at the Internet’s pace,” Mr. Draper said.

Others found mistakes based on the acknowledged liberal bias of Mr. Klein. Even though John Sexton of Breitbart.com praised the Deadspin list, he noted, “The only problem with Deadspin’s list is that it obviously overlooks some mistakes that didn’t get formal corrections [or any correction at all].”

Twitchy.com, headed by Michele Malkin, continually pokes fun at Vox. “[W]e get a kick out of the error prone ‘Voxsplainers’ at Vox.com and frequently highlight the twisted progressive logic and liberal ‘smart takes’ led by their leadership team,” Twitchy wrote in a year-end review.

The liberal bias doesn’t bother me too much because it is so blatant and relatively transparent. But I did look at some recent stories on the website to test them for accuracy.

In an explanatory article about Ferguson, Missouri, reporter German Lopez made some major gaffes.

“[A] grand jury decided not to indict [police officer Darren] Wilson after three months of deliberations — in what many saw as a deeply flawed, biased investigation led by local officials with close ties to law enforcement,” Mr. Lopez wrote.

Here’s what I would ask an entry-level journalist: Define “many,” define “deeply flawed,” and “define biased.” Also, prosecutors tend to have close ties to law enforcement. That’s the way the system was established years ago.

Mr. Lopez’ most egregious error involved the “hands up; don’t shoot” meme of protesters, who allegedly mimicked the final moments of Michael Brown before he died. Mr. Lopez provided a list of witnesses to the shooting death of Mr. Brown — some of whom said he was surrendering and others who disputed that rendition. Any reporter who’s spent time around a cop shop knows you go with forensics over witnesses. The forensic reports demonstrated Mr. Brown was moving toward the police officer with his hands down.

In another article, race and political reporter Jene Desmond-Harris suggested people take a Harvard University test to determine their “implicit bias” against blacks.

As a conservative, religious, white male, I should have been a prime candidate for a serious case of “implicit bias.” Instead, I not only passed the test, but it showed I actually favored blacks over whites.

Whatever the case, Vox.com needs to take a serious look at how it “reinvents” journalism because right now as the news-as-vegetables recipe doesn’t work without accuracy as an essential ingredient.

The organization did not respond to a request for an interview.

• Christopher Harper is a longtime reporter who teaches journalism at Temple University. He can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @charper51.


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