In Which the Internet Continues to Kill Journalism

David Carr on Mike Daisey and the KONY2012 dude:

The easy lesson might be that journalism is not a game of bean bag, and it would be best left to professionals. But we are in a pro-am informational world where news comes from all directions. Traditional media still originate big stories, but many others come from all corners — books, cellphone videos, blogs and, yes, radio shows built on storytelling.

But there is another word for news and information that comes from advocates with a vested interest: propaganda.

Yes. No one ever pulled anything over on a reporter before these amateurs got involved and fucked everything up beginning approximately last year.

Carr goes on:

It is worth mentioning that professional credentials are not insurance against journalistic scandal.

Thank you, NEW YORK TIMES, former home of Judith Miller and this guy quoted apparently because of reasons:

I sent an e-mail to someone I know who is an expert on journalistic malfeasance to ask if, in a complicated informational age, there was a way to make sure that someone telling an important story had the actual goods.

“All the good editing, fact-checking and plagiarism-detection software in the world is not going to change the fact that anyone is, under the right circumstances, capable of anything and that journalism is essentially built on trust.”

I think Jayson Blair, who responded to my e-mail query, may be on to something.


I write a lot about the tendency to ascribe to inevitability what are actually editorial choices, and that’s evident in the commentary here. “We are in a pro-am informational world,” as if you can’t avoid being taken in because it’s all too fast and there’s too much Twittering and oh, dear, who could possibly have known with all the newsy informationals flying around. There’s this whole narrative now where if something is on Twitter it’s like you’re powerless to make the editorial decision not to give a shit.

This stuff is not that hard. If you think something’s fishy — as was clearly the case in both the Daisey fiasco and the KONY2012 business from day one — then don’t put it in your paper or on your air unless you’re sure. If you suspect someone of being less than truthful, listen to that instinct and hold off on this new Interweb story phenomenon for a day or so. There is no law really that requires traditional media pay any fucking attention at all to any source they don’t want to pay attention to.

It’s just a dodge, all the rhetoric about our crazy modern technologies and the way they’ve made us all susceptible to con artists. It’s just a way to not say, as This American Life did to its credit, “Look, we fucked up, we’re sorry and it won’t happen again.” It’s just a way to get around doing the job reporters are supposed to be doing, which is sifting through the bullshit and laying the rest out in whatever medium is handy at the moment.


6 thoughts on “In Which the Internet Continues to Kill Journalism

  1. Excellent Point. Want to know something else? The Right wing understands this need of the “the media” to comment on stuff and run it without checking. They know it and use it.
    It is an explicitly stated idea. How do I know? Well I’ve attended one of there seminars where James O’Keefe was the key note speaker!
    P.S. Check out this article in the SF Chronicle about my role in advertisers leaving Rush.
    Or if you want to listen to the Angie Corio Podcast where I talk about The Spocko Method, go here.

  2. This American Life being shocked that Mike Daisey’s ONE MAN THEATER SHOW might not contain 100% verifiable information is about as believable as ESPN being shocked when good ol’ Rush Limbaugh started making indefensibly racist comments on the NFL morning show they hired him to weigh in on.
    It’s a goddamn piece oftheater. It’s gotconventions, it’s gotdifferent rules and that is why part of the price of admission is thewilling suspension of disbelief you (Carr, Glass et. al.) fucking numbskulls.
    If they were so goddamned concerned about journalistic rectitude they could just have used the NYT’s reporting as the jumping off point. But that’s much more dry and unexciting isn’t it, and Ira is more interested intelling a story, and that’s why he contacted astoryteller instead of ajournalist. Which is fine! We need storytellers and it would be a much less vibrant world without them.
    But you don’t get to have it both ways. You don’t get to include all the colorful embroidery that storytelling makes allowance for and then act all shocked and offended when the story turns out not to be something that would pass muster in the editorial room.
    Wanna be a pillar of journalistic rectitude? Good for you. Enjoy the downturn in traffic, because that’s the inevitable tradeoff of living by the rules you love to claim as dear to your heart. You have to track shit down and not take someone’s word for it, you have to cut stuff that beautifully fits the narrative but can’t be sufficiently verified, you have to sit back while all the assholes who play fast and loose shout and scream and jump up and down and get everyone to look atthem while your honorable ass is still crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s.
    Which is why major media outlet as line item profit center on multinational corporation spreadsheet has an irreconcilable contradiction: the [primary] directive to be profitable – i.e. pursue novelty and sensation – and the [secondary] one to make sure everything is sewn up good and tight. You can’t do both of those well, baby, so decide which one you really want to commit to and shut the fuck up about the other.
    But don’t go out therelooking for a more stimulating version of the truth and then act like a fucking prig when it turns out you got exactly what you wanted.

  3. As the link appears to speak to the ethical laws of journalism, I assume that the writer has a reasonable knowledge of the history of journalism — including the yellow journalism. If link author doesn’t have a reasonable knowledge of the history (which appears to be the case) then the ethical analysis is summarily dismissed.
    And as this is a feature on a “professional” news site, I make a reasonable assumption that either the author of the link is a journalist or, at a minimum, the writing has passed by some professional journalist / editor. In either case, the reviewer should have some knowledge of both journalism ethics and the history of journalism.
    Yeah. Right …
    And as for “This American Life” they obviously let themselves get fooled and didn’t pause when they couldn’t verify any of the facts. Not only made the show look bad, but also gave creedence to anyone saying that the Apple factories are flowing with milk and honey but them Li-brals are just inventing things to cause problems. After all, the whole thing about any workplace violations, including child labor, is a guilt trip so li-brals can institute more govt regulation.
    At least This American Life, on learning of their error, actually did a public apology as well as publically analyzing their mistake. Good for them on that point. Even though I agree with Dan above that it doesn’t seem believable that This American Life got into this totally blindfolded and without blame.

  4. Dan speaks for me.
    I might be biased because Mike is a fellow Colby alum (he’s behind me a few years, but is a friend of friends). But I can’t get myself worked up about the “scandal” because he is a performer, not a journo. Much like I wouldn’t call The Hurricane or In The Name Of The Father documentaries, I don’t expect him to be 100% factually accurate, only to be truthful to the spirit of events and emotional experience.

  5. ‎”What also distinguishes him from most solo performers is how elegantly he blends personal stories, historical digressions and philosophical ruminations. He has the curiosity of a highly literate dilettante — exploring subjects like the James Frey scandal (“Truth”), Scientology (“Great Men of Genius”) and Nikola Tesla’s battle with Thomas Edison over electricity (“Monopoly”) — and a preoccupation with alternative histories, secrets large and small, and the fuzzy line where truth and fiction blur.
    Mr. Daisey’s greatest subject is himself. With each new monologue he exposes a new aspect of his biography, and part of the fun for his loyal fans is filling in another piece of the portrait. ”
    People need to get off their high horse. The story is still conditions in China, not Mike’s monologues.

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