Posts from May 15, 2005

The joyous chicken

The joyous chicken

: Amanda Bennett, editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, welcomes Dan Rubin to his new post as official blogger with this:

Reader Carey O’Donnell of Haddonfield urged me to plunge the paper more heavily into that online fray.

“Bloggers are your readers,” he said over drinks at the Happy Rooster. More important, he said, they are the readers of the future. Don’t shun them, he said, and don’t ignore them. Embrace them. Both sides will benefit.

Well said, reader.

But she can’t resist a little snipe at the bloggers:

For all the hand-wringing about breaches in journalistic ethics, we have high standards of verification, truth-telling, testing and triangulating information that the freewheeling blogosphere could benefit from.

The world of bloggers, which often rests on opinion, assertion, untested assumptions and unwarranted conclusions, is developing its own system of checks and balances, based in large part on diverse audiences, near-instant response times, and the ability to quickly incorporate new evidence.

Uh, well, the bloggers and readers often think that news people often “rest on opinion, assertion, untested assumptions and unwarranted conclusions.” See the post directly below. At this good moment starting a good new feature with a well-respected journalist, did you have to make this an us-vs.-them moment? Couldn’t you resist the impulse?

But she adds:

Soon, I’ll be telling you more about how we will be entering into community conversations with our readers through new Neighbors publications and local home pages. Many more of us – including me – will be blogging. Reporters, artists, photographers, columnists will be appearing more online as well as in print. Come watch it happen.

Watch, we will.

Oh, and by the way, what heartens me most in this is that the grand tradition of journalism — hanging out for drinks at places with names like the Happy Rooster — is not dead.

When the story gets in the way of the truth

When the story gets in the way of the truth

: What a terrible lesson in journalism: about the danger of unnamed sources, about the risk of rushing a story, about the cynicism of gotcha journalism, about the damage a wrong story can do.

Newsweek quotes an unnamed source alleging that the Koran was desecrated at Guantanamo Bay and anti-American riots break out in Afghanistan, causing at least 15 deaths and other damage not so easy to add up.

Now Newsweek says, oops, nevermind, oh so sorry, it appears we could be wrong: Their source now isn’t so sure he saw that report in documents that Newsweek apparently did not confirm. Joe Gandelman has a good summary; Michelle Malkin has many links.

This mistake cost people their lives, put the lives of our soldiers in the Mideast at risk, damaged the American position in the effort to defend itself and spread democracy, and damaged the already tattered reputation of journalism.

And to what end?

If the report had come from a source who had the balls to stand by what he said, if the alleged event had been witnessed, if it had been confirmed by independent authorities, I’m not sure what the imperative to report would have been: Why did we need to urgently know this? What public good is served? If it were absolutely true, that might be one matter but…

Given that none of those if’s was true — the informant did not have the balls, the event was not witnessed by a source, the event was not confirmed independently — and given the knowledge that such a report could only be incendiary, then why report it except to play one of two games:

Show-off — in which the journalist delights in knowing something no one else knows and wants to tell the world before everyone else does, even if it’s not assuredly true.

Gotcha — in which the reporter think he has exposed something somebody wanted to hide.

An incident such as this should force us to ask what the end result of journalism should be. Is it to expose anything we can expose? Is it to beat the other guy to tell you something you didn’t know?

Or is it to tell the truth?

And if you don’t know it to be true, is it reporting? If you rely on unnamed sources and unconfirmed reports, is it journalism?

To sum up journalism as “tell the truth” sounds so damned simplistic. But that is what journalism is about, isn’t it? Or shouldn’t it be?

I’m not saying that Newsweek lied. But they didn’t know the truth before they said what they said. They put the gotcha scoop ahead of the truth and ahead of nothing less than the good of mankind.

: See also these posts about journalism and truth: here, here, and here.

And Dan Okrent on anonymous sources. I agree with him that sometimes, anonymous sources are necessary to report that which you know to be true.

: Here’s a GoogleNews search for “sources.”

: UPDATE: In The Times, Kit Seelye says that Newsweek is not retracting:

But Mr. Whitaker said in an interview later: “We’re not retracting anything. We don’t know for certain what we got wrong.”

And neither do you know for certain what, if anything, you got right. That’s the problem.

: LATER: Alan in the comments raises an important consideration. He says that the deaths are not themselves Newsweek’s fault but the fault of — my words — fanatics who would kill in the name of religion.

The double negative

The double negative

: Armando at Daily Kos gets all bitchy at Jay Rosen for praising Dan Okrent. Dan’s sin, as near as I can tell, is that he dared to see the side of the critics of the liberal newspaper and criticize the paper too much — except as it refers to coverage of the runup to Iraq, in which he didn’t criticize the paper enough (note that he didn’t try; he didn’t deal with things that came before his time).

Kos is true to form and true to its own mission: It is an advocacy site that sees the world through it’s blue lenses. Rosen, on the other hand, is a media criticism site and he sees the world through his green eyeshade.

There’s also this little gem:

And Rosen has a lot to say about Jayson Blair. But this line was particularly stupid to me:

Ultimately Daniel Okrent will have had more influence on the New York Times than the notorious Jayson Blair.

I mean really. Jayson Blair was a third string reporter, how much influence did Jayson Blair have on the Times?

Well, Jayson Blair caused the firing of the two top editors at The New York Times and the hiring of aforementioned public editor and two major, profession-changing reports from The Times on improving the professionalism and trust of journalism. I won’t stoop to Armando’s level and call what he says “particularly stupid,” but I will call it clueless.

Two words: naked vlogs

Two words: naked vlogs

: From’s job listings: Playboy Enterprises: Director, Program Acquisitions & Commissions

The family that podcasts together…

The family that podcasts together…

: The Wilson family podcasts.