New NYT video series will fact-check the past

The New York Times Co. | Retro Report | The New York Times

The New York Times Co. Monday announced a video collaboration with Retro Report, which "Fact-Checks Yesterday’s News," in the words of a Times release. The videos will run on the Times' Booming blog.

Future reports will take on crack babies -- "we learn that warnings in the 1980s about these children being damaged for life were not supported by the research of the time or by more recent studies," Michael Winerip writes -- and the Tawana Brawley story.

Retro Report says it combines "documentary techniques with shoe-leather reporting" because "the first draft of history can be wrong."

When news organizations fail to invest the time and money required to correct the record or provide context around what really happened, myth can replace truth. The results are policy decisions and cultural trends built on error, misunderstanding or flat-out lies.

The inaugural video in the collaboration looks at the Mobro 4000, the star-crossed "garbage barge" that peregrinated from New York to the South and back in 1987, searching for somewhere to dump its load. Much of the reporting at the time focused on a coming garbage catastrophe due to closing landfills.

"It really did seem like a crisis, but it wasn't," Alan Hershkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council says in the video. As it turned out, small and inefficient landfills were closing, but larger regional ones would open. New York, we learn, now ships out the equivalent of seven Mobro 4000s worth of garbage every day.

Another interesting, and possibly related turn of events: Recycling took off in the U.S. after the Mobro incident. An unrelated observation: Garbage-barge entrepreneur Lowell Harrelson sounds eerily like Sheriff Andy Bellefleur in "True Blood."

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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