Monday, January 08, 2007

News and Observer to bloggers: Can't we all just get along?

N&O editor Melanie Sill has a post up on their blog which is part apologia and part olive leaf:

Journalism AND blogs
Most of her sentiments are unobjectionable; some are even noble.

Good journalism is defined by what it is, not who does it. Journalism involves a discipline of accuracy, verification, fairness, public-mindedness and truth-telling. As part of democracy it empowers citizens by informing them, holds people in power accountable to the rest of us and, conversely, takes responsibility for its own actions.
As i said, by itself the post is all puppy dogs and apple pie.


To anyone following the Duke lacrosse case, this passage should carry a snort warning:

I thought of this in reading Thomas Goldsmith’s piece from Sunday on the rising number of mentally ill people sharing rest homes with frail, elderly patients. This reporting took a great deal of research and time as the reporter gained to an understanding of the situation as well as details on how it is affecting people in North Carolina. The same is true for The N&O's exhaustive and comprehensive reporting on the Duke lacrosse case; many of those who have been reading the coverage (rather than reading about it) have noted the results of our commitment to original and verifiable reporting.

If only the N&O had done what they claim they did. But the truth is, they ran alot of stories on the Duke lacrosse travesty, however their coverage has not been fair, accurate, comprehensive, or exhaustive. They began with vicious attacks on the lacrosse team, a sanitized interview with the dancer/escort, and a docile acceptance of Nifong's statements. Since then they have made grudging attempts to cover the new developments fairly (Joseph Neff has done stand-out work) but they have also made many misteps. Most importantly, their coverage has not been comprehensive because they have never "exhaustively" examined their coverage nor owned up to their mistakes.

See the following for more background:

Duke lacrosse: Triangle media still spin for Nifong

Duke lacrosse: The News and Observer is still covering for Nifong

From the cone of silence to Emily Litella

Duke Lacrosse: Assessing the News & Observer

Duke lacrosse: Custom, interest, and the pursuit of truth

But Sill raises another point that has nothing to do with the lacrosse story.

Like some of The N&O's virulent critics, I think the Internet has opened up dialogue in a revolutionary way. In the history of media a new form rarely replaces an old one; instead, the effect is additive, radio adds to print, TV to radio and print, the Internet to all of the above. The Internet allows media to cross from print to electronic in a wonderful way that we are just beginning to comprehend.

I think that the Internet is different for two reasons. First, radio and TV never challenged newspapers in "explanation space". Instead, they ratified and amplified the editorial decisions of the relevant newspaper. Walter Cronkite essentially cribbed the front page of the New York Times and then added pictures. Local radio does the same thing with the local broadsheet.

The internet is a direct challenge to the monopoly that print journalists are accustomed to. Those most threatened are not front-line journalists like Neff; it is the editors and pundits. The "new morning paper" breaks their monopoly to say what news is and what it means. It also reveals the shortcomings they wish to hide.

That's new. It is powerful. And it will profoundly change Ms. Sill's relationship with her audience.

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