February 21, 2004

Old media virtue and blogging
Posted by McQ

Mike King of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution says:

John Kerry's rumored affair and George W. Bush's missing-in-Alabama military record have tied the "old media" up in knots over the last few weeks. They've sent us into a hand-wringing examination of how much virtue we should sacrifice at the altar of Internet gossip.

Given the fact that we are still more than eight months away from the presidential election, after what surely will be a bitter and negative campaign, this isn't good news.

Unless mainstream news organizations can muster the courage to do something we hate: ignore some stories.

There are times, I would argue, when it makes more sense --- and is more responsible --- to do just that. Not that reporters shouldn't check rumors as thoroughly as possible. But does that require us to report what we found? When others report rumors as news, does that make it news?

Good points and of course, he’s right, sometimes you just have to say ‘no’ to giving rumors any recognition at all until they’re proven.” We KNOW that’s right (and so do they) ... the question is, why don’t they do it?

That's when a handful of news organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, got what I call a little bit pregnant on the story. Rather than address it straight out, we ran a piece about how news organizations are grappling with rumors and unverified information on Web blogs. Inside that 30-inch piece was a 12-inch section about the rumors of the Kerry affair.

“A little bit pregnant”. A little bit sideways actually ... reporting on the fact that there were rumors circulating ... not exactly Pulitzer-style reporting is it?

Actually the article is a good critique of what’s happened among the major media or “old media” per King. But the reason they get a “little bit pregnant”? Because they’ve been scooped by those nasty old web blogs in the past. It’s a brand new world in the “old media” and they don't like it one bit. They get a tad antsy when things start to swirl. If there's smoke, there's GOT to be fire right? As to the ethics of such situations, well let's say pragmatism has begun dictating their ethics a bit.

King concludes with:

It should be simple: Print only what you know to be true and have independently verified. Don't do stories about whether other news organizations are printing rumors. Hold on to our virtue. Don't get a little pregnant.

To which I say, “good luck and don’t forget to send me a baby shower announcement”. After all it IS the political season, and the “old media” doesn’t get paid for being the last to publish. Any bets on when the next 'rumor' shows up in the 'old media'?

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