Tuesday, July 12, 2011


So today I read an article (well, a mini-article) in the Washington Post Express that bothered me a lot, and it tied into a post I wrote on here before, so I thought I'd share.

It wasn't the article itself that bothered me--it was about a man in Qatar that is trying to breed Spix's macaws (the world's rarest species of parrot, I believe) in order to release some back into the wild, because there are no known specimens still living in the wild (and only 76 in captivity, according to the Express)(have you guys seen the recent cartoon movie Rio? The "Blue Macaw" is modeled after the Spix's macaw). This, in itself, is fantastic. As a parrot lover, I'm gung-ho for saving and reintroducing species.

The article had a picture underneath it. It was the back view of a macaw with its wings spread. Now, I'm sure there are only a few Express readers who would have noticed this, but working in a pet store (a privately owned pet store where the employees actually know what they're talking about, thank you) and knowing a fair amount about parrots in particular, I noticed something.

The bird pictured is not a Spix's Macaw. It is a Blue and Gold macaw.

Since I'd just recently written up a whole post about authors doing their research, and how they can't expect the readers to not know more than them, this bothered me even more than it normally would.

I talked to my co-worker from the pet store, and she said she had read the original, long-version article in the Washington Post proper (in fact, our boss had brought it in for the employees to read), and it had a correct picture. Which, to me, makes this even worse. Now it's not even an issue of not knowing, it's just being lazy. What this says to me is that the Express just didn't want to go through the trouble of getting the rights to an actual picture, so took a photo stock picture of a somewhat nondescript macaw (like I said, it's the back view; I only noticed because it's the wrong color blue for a Spix's, and last time I checked Spix's don't have yellow legs) and assumed it would suffice. It's an article about parrots, it's a picture of a parrot; close enough. (I have to make a disclaimer here and say that, not being a Post or an Express employee, I don't actually know what happened and clearly can't make any official statements about it.) But my personal opinion is that they should get their facts straight. To me, a picture of the wrong bird is misleading and not close enough, especially when the article is so specific to one species. I expect more from a reputable source like the Post.

You can't assume your readers don't know more than you.

I like the Washington Post, and the Express. But issues like this lower my opinion of them.

SO the point of all this was to say "See?" and underline my point about doing your research. It is definitely worth the effort, even if only a few people are going to notice. The person that notices might just be someone that's going to write a blog post about it.

Your neighborhood nit-picker,


Jesse said...

And honey, they will be oh so quick to point it out when you're wrong. Because there are those who look for the nitpicks and are not afraid to call you out on it.

I believe, as another author/blog put it, "respect your reader" is the best advice one can give to any author--new or experienced.

Glynis said...

Interesting post. I recently telephoned a hotel in the UK to find out what year the hotel changed its name. The manageress was surprised and said she didn't realise it had. Anyway she then said 'I am sure no-one would notice if you kept the modern name.' I told her I would know, and believe me so would many folk-if I was lucky enough to have them read the book.

Research is important.(I found out the year by the way).

the Interns said...

Jesse- you're right, there always are those who look for errors. Some are just trying to be helpful, and some honestly just want to seem smarter than you. But either way, isn't it better to not have to deal with it to begin with? "Respect your reader" is indeed great advice. As I said before, the reader can figure it out.

Glynis- Now that's research! I'm impressed. If everyone went to those lengths to get the little details right... well, maybe I wouldn't have had to write a post on research :)