June 16, 2003

THE WSJ’S MATTHEW ROSE HAS THE SCOOP ON GREG PACKER and this cautionary observation:

News organizations often aren’t choosy about how they get “man on the street” material, in part because it’s often decorative and sometimes contrived. It’s also easy to trick reporters who rarely if ever check up on the “men on the street” they randomly quote. That’s fertile ground for Mr. Packer to exploit. “For some venues, it didn’t matter what you were getting as long as it was lively,” says Roy Peter Clark, a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, a journalism research center in St. Petersburg, Fla.

James Barron, a reporter for the New York Times, featured Mr. Packer prominently in his story about Ms. Clinton’s book signing without knowing Mr. Packer’s reputation. Mr. Barron, who conducted the interview after Mr. Packer was done chatting with MSNBC’s Ashleigh Banfield, says he “would have liked to have told our readers this is something he does . . .[but] if this is his place in the world, when he’s not repairing the roads, so be it.” Since 1996, the Times has quoted Mr. Packer three times.

The New York Daily News, which counts about a dozen Packer references, is less sanguine. “Had we known he was Mr. First-in-Line, we would, of course, have identified him as such,” says spokesman Ken Frydman.

Something to keep in mind when you see those “random, representative” folks quoted. Does Barron’s statement mean that he knew that Packer was a quote-o-mat, and “would have liked” to tell the readers, but didn’t? It’s not quite clear. (Via Romenesko).

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