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The Lake News Online
  • Guest column: Credibility compromised in search of scoops

  • It's all your fault.

    The sooner you realize that, the better chance we will have to fix it.
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  • It's all your fault.
    The sooner you realize that, the better chance we will have to fix it.
    By now, you know that CNN and Fox News got it wrong when they reported information that only they had about a suspect being arrested in the Boston Marathon bombings.
    The reason they were the only ones who had the information is because it was entirely untrue.
    But they still ran it up the flag pole to see who would salute.
    A lot of you did.
    How many of you — or at least you Facebook friends and people who fill up your Twitter timeline with retweets — pushed that information out there? How much did their traffic jump due to a fabricated and obviously unvetted story?
    That's the downfall of new journalism. I am not that old, but I can remember the time when a scoop meant getting a story first and praying that no one else discovered it before the next day's newspaper hit porches across our coverage area.
    Today, a slow computer can give a competitor an edge since scoops are measured by how many seconds you beat the competition, not hours or days.
    Of course, in the good old days, journalists also grew in popularity due to their ability to be accurate as well as fast. Today, people want flashy and first.
    That's why these stations didn't bother to check their facts or even their sources before broadcasting and posting it for everyone to see. Now, all that matters is how many eyeballs you attract.
    No one cares how credible you are. Sure, CNN and Fox are the laughing stock of the journalism industry right now. But when they post their ratings and Web traffic, Campbell's Soup and Ford aren't going to ask them how credible or accurate they are.
    All they want is a platform to reach viewers. The world's first all news cable channel and the first all news channel to intentionally deliver a biased product reached a lot of people Wednesday. And it is your fault that they could do it again tomorrow.
    You looked because you wanted to know. That's what we do as journalists. We inform, educate and entertain. In the current system, it doesn't matter who puts the information out or how reliable it is. You will read it. That's why it is your fault.
    We have taken newspaper readers and discerning radio and television news consumers and turned them into information junkies who don't care what they're given as long as they get it fast. The news used to be a steakhouse and now it's a knock-off fast food chain. An editor with ESPN, Dan Van Natta Jr. tweeted his own twist on a truism yesterday and hit the nail on the head.
    Page 2 of 2 - "Journalism is history's rough draft. Some days are rougher than others," he said.
    CNN allowed its own reporters to have the scoop that the first scoop they got probably wasn't a scoop at all. And I'm sure the revised stories drew almost as many viewers as the initial story did. Chris Cuomo on air quote that "we don't know what's right or not right at this point," while the onscreen crawl was still reporting that an arrest had been made is a perfect example of how concerned they were with being correct.
    Fox was no better. Megyn Kelly said, "Here's the truth: We don't know. ... We just want to be transparent with you on the information that is coming in a breaking news situation that seems to be anything but clear at this moment."
    Isn't it the job of journalists to cut through the haze and tell what is going on behind the fog of press conferences and reticent political leaders?
    Journalism paints a clear picture. Whatever it is that happens on television and the internet now is not journalism.
    The Columbia Journalism Review offered a perfect review of the situation on its Twitter feed with a one-word tweet. "Sigh."
    Journalism is being marginalized one inaccurate unnamed source at a time. For every corner cut in order to maximize speed, the functional credibility journalists need to affect positive change in the world is compromised. The power of truth is being sacrificed at the altar of popularity and profit. It is your fault because you are choosing to consume the junk food journalism that is being shoved in front of you.
    As a news consumer, you have to make it known that you expect more. When powerful and precise reporting provides peak profits, that is exactly what reporters will be asked to deliver.

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