The self-correcting medium

The self-correcting medium

: Citizens’ media both spreads rumors and debunks them. Citizens’ media also forces mainstream media to cover stories it may not otherwise cover. There’s an example of all this in Baltimore after online postings alleging that the mayor, Martin O’Malley, had an affair.

Another person posting about the topic was revealed this week to be Joseph Steffen, a longtime political operative for O’Malley’s political rival, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

That story, and Steffen’s resignation, broke in the mainstream media. But it highlights how Web sites – with their freewheeling rumors and rants – increasingly are forcing more traditional news institutions to write articles that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day.

Rumors of O’Malley’s alleged infidelity have long circulated in Baltimore but were not printed in such daily newspapers as The Sun or The Washington Post. It took postings on the Free Republic site, based in Fresno, Calif., to bring that gossip into the local papers of public record, as part of the story of a state official’s resignation for helping to spread such chatter….

The Web site’s treatment of the O’Malley rumor and the 60 Minutes report underscores the dual nature of this new form of communication, which traffics in unsubstantiated rumors but can also serve as a check on the mainstream media.

See also Jeff Gannon. See also Eason Jordan.