18 January 2012

Correcting a correction and the power/danger of unverified facts

Publishing an unverified fact is an opportunity to challenge traditional notions of power as it relates to truth gatekeepers. It is not, however, an excuse for sloppy journalism.

The danger of publishing unverified information made headlines recently, after CNBC correspondent Eamon Javers published a story that claimed Mitt Romney’s former employer, Bain & Company, was a consultant during the auto company bailouts overseen by the Obama Administration.

The story was pulled after Bain’s PR president challenged the connection, claiming it was incorrect and demanding a retraction, to which CNBC promptly abided. But then it was learned that the report was correct, and that the correction was wrong, as Craig Silverman notes on Poynter.com. So Javers wrote another story, but not before the webomino effect ravaged the blogosphere, claiming CNBC didn’t operate by basic journalistic principles of fact verification.

Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik was one of the more outspoken critics, Silverman notes.  Even after the original story was proven correct, many remained convinced that CNBC's failure to properly verify the fact was its cardinal sin. 

Within the firestorm of criticism, there is an interesting dichotomy: What if Javers had contacted Bain & Company successfully before he wrote the first story, but the company lied to him about the connection, as they obviously did in their retaliation to his story?

09 January 2012

Pay-for-play and the reality of online news

News outlets have a tradition of pleasing advertisers with content. In the private world of profit-making news orgs, few things are more prevalent, for better or worse.

An FCC-sponsored study called Information Needs of the Communities, led by Columbia Journalism Review's Steven Waldman, revealed just how ubiquitous pay-for-play can be in television. The FCC decided more transparency was necessary for the public to know where content comes from. But industry push-back is strong. Broadcasters and advertisers don't want change.

"...the organizations arguing against better disclosure represent local news operations—yes, the same news organizations that routinely (and appropriately) demand greater transparency from public officials. Can these local TV news organizations really be so tone-deaf as to demand greater transparency from everyone else but resist even the most rudimentary, common-sense forms of transparency for themselves?"

06 January 2012

Bloggers vs. The Media: who tells us what's worth talking about?

The following is a portion of a comment thread posted on Glenn Greenwald's blog that recalled an interview with NYU Professor Jay Rosen. In the interview, Rosen discusses mainstream media's "ability to infect us with notions of what’s realistic," which Rosen claims " is one of the most potent powers press and political elites have."

It's a snippet from a 2009 interview posted on Salon.com, and it's a great short read. Here's some relevant sections from the comments:

Me (some paragraphs omitted):
The Tea Party and the Occupy movements each represent ideologies that are more or less within the sphere of deviance. But the conversation, carried by the web, is pushing these ideas into legitimacy.

My question is, what role do journalists play in weighing fringe ideas when doing a story on a popular subject with two traditional modes of thought? Is there justification needed for bringing in fringe ideas, or can it just be done? Also, is it necessary to balance fringe ideas from either side of the political spectrum, or at least try to?

04 January 2012

Live-blogging and its value to the greater society

Steve Buttry and I engaged in an interesting back-and-forth on his website about the value of liveblogging. You can check out the full story and conversation on Steve's website. Here's some highlights of our exchange:

Oftentimes breaking news or live blogging has more value for media and news people/junkies than it does for the overall society. If a story must be broken because a storm is pending, or there is an accident or fire or emergency situation, or if timeliness is paramount, then speed is important to society, and not just other news outlets. Otherwise, scooping news or breaking it first has more to do with professional egotism than anything else.
Traditional journalism provides summarized accounts of news events. Liveblogs provide detailed extended accounts... I’m not saying that every aspect of digital journalism is an improvement. I think we have a lot to improve still. But I have more confidence than you [do] in journalism and in the public to continue improving.

01 January 2012

2012: Let's get it right

News outlets generally take this time to reflect on the best and worst of the past year, and offer predictions for the years to come. I don't have a top or bottom ten list, and I'm not going to pretend I know what tomorrow will bring. For all I know the internet could disappear and be replaced with a virtual reality implantation device connected directly to our brains, so all we have to do is think "google" and our next thought triggers a nanosecond search on the subject.

I'm not a Luddite nor am I a technophile. There are useful inventions being created every day, but history spins in cycles that appear different only because the context has changed. As wonderful as the open source and free content movement is, it does not change the fundamental problems that prevent society from moving forward and beyond the real divisions that keep barbarism and ignorance thriving. By focusing so much on how wonderful the new tools and technologies are, are we missing the deeper meaning of it all?