Flutterby™! : "Journalism"

Next unread comment / Catchup all unread comments User Account Info | Logout | XML/Pilot/etc versions | Long version (with comments) | Weblog archives | Site Map | | Browse Topics


2006-01-06 14:37:41.482994+00 by Dan Lyke 2 comments

I was going to add this to the comments for petronius' entry about victims of the news cycle, but I think that this failure of the journalism system deserves another entry: Local W.Va. Paper Says Skepticism Helped it Avoid Mining Story Goof:

Skidmore adds that her staff never believed the miners had been found alive because no official word was ever given. She said no update about miners being found alive ever appeared on the paper's Web site, either.

"I was on the phone with her and I was hearing things on CNN and FOX that she was not hearing there," Skidmore said about reporter Becky Wagoner. "She heard that the miners were alive just before it was broadcast, around midnight. She talked about hearing church bells ringing and people yelling in jubilation--but nothing official."

So: Rather than re-print what "everyone knows", one paper decided to wait for confirmation. The Inter-Mountain, with a circulation of 11,000. While Flutterby can't claim to a larger readership than that, I think a few 'blogs can.

In the wake of some of the more damning news stories about the excesses of the Bush administration, a couple of people have noted that the papers that have run these stories have sat on their information for months, in many cases over a year, until the public sentiment swung against Bush. In other words: Editors were quite content to reinforce preconceived notions of their readers, even when they knew that the information on which the readers were basing their opinions were factually wrong, because the truth was at odds with the conventional wisdom.

And here we find a similar pattern: A number of people mistakenly gain a belief, and rather than actually checking sources, in the rush to "be first" and sell more newspapers, traditional journalism goes with simply passing on the conventional wisdom rather than actually discovering the story.

The next person who claims that journalism rises above weblogs or other amateur efforts had better give me a damned good explanation for this phenomenon. And we need to start holding our news sources accountable for this crap: If you subscribe to a paper that called this one wrong, they need at the very least an angry letter to the editor asking why they're reprinting rumour as fact, and asking in what other cases they're content to repeat the conventional wisdom in order to make exciting headlines rather than ask what the truth really is.

[ related topics: Religion Interactive Drama Politics Weblogs Current Events Journalism and Media Pedal Power Bicycling Archival ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2006-01-06 21:42:14.196243+00 by: petronius

Somebody told me that the Inter-Mountain was an afternoon paper, which might partially explain its delay in publishing. As to angry letters, here is the take on that topic.

One interesting point about this moment is that the MSM is the only body in a position to figurte out what it did wrong, not the blogosphere. Somebody has to go ask people "So, when did you first hear they were alive?" and to assemble a timeline. That somebody is a reporter, and he needs an editor to tell him to go do it.

Last point. My favorite near miss came some years ago, when the first President Bush got sick as a state dinner in Tokyo and threw up in the Japanese Premier's lap. I've seen a clip of CNN where the reporter is about to announce an unconfirmed report that Bush had died, when you hear a voice off-camera screaming "Stop, Stop!!!". The reporter stops and goes onto another topic, and later, I'm sure, had a very stiff drink.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-01-07 07:26:36.931315+00 by: Dan Lyke [edit history]

Yes, The Inter-Mountain is also an afternoon paper.

I think the question is more complex than "when did you first hear they were alive?", because what bothers me isn't that the paper got that wrong, it's that, except for a few hundred or maybe one or two thousand people, whether or not those miners survived is far overshadowed by the larger questions of the role of the mining company and the federal government in the safety and deaths of those miners.

Publishing based on rumor tells me that they'll be just as happy to say "miners dead, story's over", rather than following up on what happened, whether the safety record of the company makes this a one time mistake or an inevitable failure, and how the mine safety system allowed it to happen.

It's getting the shot of the crying widow, and then moving on.