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Is work quality a thing of the past?

Flickr user mandeberg
(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY If you're online as much as I am and you've been around longer than a GenYer, chances are you've noticed something's changed: The quality of media reporting and commentary is definitely deteriorating.

Here's a recent example that caught my attention, and not in a good way. Time Business (@TIMEBusiness) -- part of Time Inc., a division of Time Warner -- tweeted this about new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer: "Can the first female CEO of Yahoo save the company?"

Yahoo's famously raucous former CEO, Carol Bartz, may not have been much of a lady, but I'm relatively sure she was female. That's a pretty high-profile mistake. And you know what? Time never posted a correction; the tweet is still there two days later.

Granted, the story was accurate, but these days headlines can get retweeted thousands of times. Next thing you know, half the planet's misinformed.

Besides, if I'm making a presentation to an executive staff and one of my slides is titled "Your products aren't competitive," I'd better have the facts to back that assertion up or I won't be consulting for that company very long.

Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that bad grammar is invading the workplace. Ironically, I find typos and missing words in their articles from time to time. And I'm a big fan of the Journal. I guess we all make mistakes.

But this isn't all about typos, fact-checking, or misleading headlines. The blogosphere is full of bloggers who use whatever surveys or research they can find to support sensationalist viewpoints. The problem is that science and deductive reasoning often go out the window in the endless pursuit of clicks.

Around this time last year, I came upon an article on, which also happens to be owned by Time Inc., called "10 Careers With High Rates of Depression." The premise was that some jobs contribute to depression more than others. Sounds reasonable enough, right? Not exactly.

After some digging, I discovered that the source data (which wasn't provided in the article) was from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a relatively large questionnaire that included two questions: 1) Have you had instances of depression? and 2) What's your job?

There's only one problem. You simply can't conclude a causal, scientific relationship between jobs and depression based solely on that survey, as the article did. In fact, it would be just as logical to deduce that depressed people are attracted to certain jobs as it would be to conclude that certain jobs contribute to depression. And get this. The story was picked up -- hook, line, sinker, and the rest of the fishing pole -- by all sorts of reputable publications, from Forbes and The Huffington Post to Yahoo (YHOO) and Psychology Today.

Now, you might be tempted to call this a media problem. After all, we've got a relentless 24x7 news cycle, there are billions of eyeballs to capture, and the shelf-life of news and commentary keeps getting shorter and shorter. Couple that with ever-shrinking budgets and you can see why journalistic quality is suffering.

Okay, but isn't that more or less symptomatic of the world we live in? Isn't the pace of technology and innovation accelerating? Aren't product life cycles constantly shrinking? Don't we all have to be on 24x7? Aren't we all being asked to do more with less? You know the answers.

By extension, is it any wonder that Hewlett-Packard's (HP) board hired Leo Apotheker when most of the directors had no idea why he'd been canned by SAP (SAP) and had never even met the guy before voting to appoint him as CEO of a $100 billion public company?

Should it come as a surprise that Yahoo appointed Scott Thompson as CEO, a guy who was forced to resign just four months into the job because he misrepresented his educational credentials on his resume, something that probably would have come out if the board had vetted him properly?

Don't even get me started on JPMorgan's (JPM) recent multibillion dollar trading blunder or the real reason why Detroit's automakers had to be bailed out -- because for too many years they paid workers way too much to make crappy cars and then paid them even more to retire.

I certainly don't have all the answers, but I do know one thing. When it comes to quality, customer service, and attention to detail, business leaders and executives sure talk a good game. And while our deficiencies in those areas are not the only reasons for the conspicuously disappearing "Made in America" tag, if we ever want it to return, we have to put our money where are mouths are and bring back pride in American workmanship.

Update: Clarification in paragraph 10.

Image courtesy of Flickr user mandeberg