Media memes

Gawker Stalker caused quite a fuss in the press, even on network TV news shows and internationally, including a story in the Times of London.

But here’s the funny part: The only thing new in this story was that Gawker put its celebrity sightings atop a Google map with pretty Wisp boxes. The only thing new was a redesign. What the press was supposedly up-in-arms about — readers “stalking” celebrities and reporting their encounters — has been going on since Gawker began. I remember when I introduced Nick Denton to James Truman in the Conde Nast cafeteria and Nick said, “We stalk you.” James gave him a befuddled grin, but then, that’s how he always looked.

But the media coverage didn’t note this angle — which is really just the power of graphics. One outlet acted as if there was some new outrage and in the echo chamber that is the media, the same story got picked up again and again and again. That’s the way news media work: News is the product of a giant virtual Xerox machine.

None of the media outlets also noted the irony of their outrage: Media stalks celebrities every day. Citizens don’t rent helicopters to buzz weddings; media do. Whenever the trend of citizen witnesses taking pictures is brought up, someone will fret that this will motivate citizens to harass stars. As if professional reporters and photographers don’t?

Another trivial example of a media meme gone wild: When Howard Stern gave an interview to Entertainment Weekly, he said — laughing, the magazine made clear — that he is never satisifed; that 4 million listeners paying $12 a buck wasn’t even good news; he wanted 20 million. Papers picked this up as Stern scolding his fans, yelling at them. They didn’t bother to read the source. Stern had a fit, not with EW, but with the media Xeroxers. The story went all over on the wire. And yesterday, he read email from fans not using Sirius who were mad at what he said in the wire story. But because they can’t hear him, he’s powerless to correct the record.

I bring up these trivial examples of the press in action because when we judge big, professional media vs. competitors, we tend to concentrate on Baghdad bureaus and White House scoops. But much of the news much of the time is trivial, like this. And the skewed stories that get spread and spread again are trivial. But consider that everytime a journalist gets something wrong, there’s someone who knows better and who now doesn’t trust the press. And they can’t correct the stories that keep spreading because the press isn’t built for that.

Every story should have a link to submit a correction or links to the larger story on the web. Thanks to connectivity and linking, news can now be architected better to get the truth.