The Myth Of "Procedure"

I laughed out loud when I read that, last Monday, The New York Times (which may be the most overvalued brand out there in news — but that’s another post) had egg on its face when it admitted that it had published a fake letter to the editor.

A big boo-boo in the newspaper world, but it gets worse: the letter purported to be from the mayor of Paris and it criticized the Empire State’s possible next Senator, Caroline Kennedy. AP reports:

“What title has Ms. Kennedy to pretend to Hillary Clinton’s seat?” the letter in Monday’s editions said. “We French can only see a dynastic move of the vanishing Kennedy clan in the very country of the Bill of Rights. It is both surprising and appalling.”

Seems that the letter had been emailed to the paper and an editor had replied to the author with some queries — but had not heard back. Rather than calling Paris, the paper ran the letter.

The Gray Lady has rightly apologized and says it is reviewing procedures to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

It’s a refrain we’ve heard before. In cases where it is clear that someone simply bungled their job, often there is a call for a “review” of “systems” and “procedures,” as if the fault must be that no one had thought to set up the right rules ahead of time. But, no, like many such public mistakes, the problem lies with someone’s poor performance.

A new system won’t fix the problem — better employees (and possibly better management) will.

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