As we transition from the print to the online world, certain principles of traditional news gathering are taking a hit. As we know, long time newspaper and broadcast news sources were always careful about having at least two sources before they ran with a story. If it was a major story like the Pentagon Papers that Danial Ellsberg leaked to the New York Times in 1971, the “Times” contacted the administration to alert them that they were going to run the story so they would have a chance to rebut or at least prepare. We saw this in “All the President’s Men” when the Washington Post did the same regarding Waterwate in terms of alerting the Nixon administration what they were about to run before it ran.
Such is not the case today. Whereas in the days when print ruled the roost, the goal was to beat the other guys to the punch, get the story right and sell more newspapers, today, any website can leap to the fore by breaking a story. Today, it’s all about hits and search position. And it’s all being done in lightning speed, damn the details.
First, we had the story of Shirley Sherrod where every media outlet known to man, let alone the Obama administration, jumped the gun and put this wonderful woman through a tortuous week completely without merit. The result was apologies all around when, had people waited long enough to take a breath and watch the whole video that the right wing blogger had edited to match his intent, they would have seen that Ms Sherrod’s speech was one of inclusion and harmony–not racist in any way.
Next, we had the recent leak of the Afghanistan memos to a website that most of us had never heard of before, (this blogger included) Wikileaks. Is it beneficial for us to know that all parties (military, government, etc.) have had serious questions about this mission from the start? Of course it is. But there is no question that some of these documents would fall under the category of “classified” and now the cat is out of the bag. No media were alerted that these documents were going to be posted. The government was certainly blindsided. This would not have happened years ago.
The media (such as it is redefined today) is off the rails and has no plans to get back on the tracks. Welcome to the wild west media world. But be forewarned. Seeing something in print or online today does not carry the weight that is did years ago when we could be fairly assured that the story had been checked and double checked.
An interesting offshoot of this situation is that major media companies are rarely sued anymore by people who feel they were libeled or otherwise wronged. Why would this be? Two reasons.
First, the media source can immediately do a correction online and secondly, the offended party can now fend for themselves by attacking the media source on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other websites. In other words, no need to get back. Just get even.