Yesterday’s coverage of the tragic and unexpected death of Michael Jackson made me think about the divide between traditional media and new media. For a while, I have been sensing “traditional” journalists are being self-righteous about their status and place in society. I was constantly nagged by a feeling that this is about more than ideals and standards.
While I work, I like to listen to the news on the internet. I think it was during Woff Blitzer’s show that CNN announced that Jackson had been transported to the hospital after a reported cardiac arrest. The way the story evolved and was reported on various venues got me thinking again.
TMZ.com was the first to report that Jackson was dead. For about 30-45 minutes CNN reported that he was in a coma. At the same time, TMZ and then KTLA and the Los Angeles Times had already gone live with the news that Jackson had passed away. Only some time later, CNN was reporting that “multiple sources” were reporting that Jackson was dead while making a point of stating that they had not yet “independently verified” that information.
It was this fixation on independent verification that quickly annoyed me. Now, I can understand responsible reporting, checking your facts and doing due diligence. I’m all for that. But this ostentatious dwelling on independent verification seemed to point to a deeper issue.
I don’t believe CNN was being excessively process-oriented. They like to draw out the development of a story for the suspense and greater viewership. This story evolved with protracted titillation, the CNN hype engine redlining as they jumped from expert to past Jackson associate to consultant to reporter-on-the-scene. What a blatant effort to get viewers glued to the TV!
CNN has been a leader in embracing social media elements through Twitter, Facebook and even their own iReport program. They have extensively utilized eyewitness-generated content (ad nauseam) during the recent unrest in Iran. All the while, they kept saying they could not verify these citizen-generated reports independently – but looped the same pieces of cell phone video (ad nauseam) nonetheless.
Earlier in the week, the discussion on one of the CNN shows took a tangent into the discussion of social media and citizen journalism vs. professional journalism discussion. The discussion, as I recall, rested on the conclusion that there is no substitute for professional, credentialed journalists. Apparently, only “professional” journalists are capable of investigating a story, checking facts and only they realize that what is reported must be independently verified.
This is reactionary and it’s protectionist. It’s also arrogant. While it is intended to send a subtle message that only professional journalists should be trusted. Promoting yourself as a trustworthy source of the news is one thing. Displaying an attitude that only you have a license to deliver the news betrays a Gollum-like sense of ownership of the story: “If it’s not from CNN, it didn’t happen or is not true!”
Yes, there is some really crappy writing in the bloggosphere with people talking out of the wrong ends of their digestive tracts and not checking their facts (or even being aware of the responsibility to o this). However, it seems that traditional media venues embrace social media when it increases viewership/readership or enhances their content and then turn around and disparage independent social media venues as not “professional” when those threaten their authority and livelihood.
What’s that smell?
Email & Share