Media Behaving Badly

You remember the pillars of old media, you know the ones that many now proclaim being obsolete, old-fashioned and slow: objectivity, using more than one source, digging deeper and not falling for people who proclaim they know the truth without questioning their motives? Oh, how all circuit breakers have failed this week.

After a conservative blogger posted an edited version of a speech given by a federal official, Shirley Sherrod, that was meant to prove that she practiced reverse racism against a white client, all media outlets, old and new and mainstream and what not, were up in arms about her alleged misconduct. The White House even fired the woman. But they were wrong, they apologized, the full video was shown and she was offered her job back. Apologies accepted?

Not so fast. The frenzy to stay on top of the news, to be the first to raise issues, forced the media to throw away again a few good old values of old media of days past: present the entire story, dig deeper, provide background, question every claim, use more than one source, and, above all, stay credible.

Was it really so hard for bloggers, reporters, editors and armchair commentators to watch the 45 minute video in its entirety and only then to report on it? Did they really have to rely on a short, edited clip, taken out of context to form an opinion? Was that too time consuming? Even a 24/7 news cycle needs to abide by and honor fairness, credibility and objectivity (at least in news gathering). Otherwise, it’ll turn into mere content mush without much substance. And nobody would want to pay for that. Oh, wait. We don’t pay for online news. Maybe we got what we bargained for.

Poynter published a timeline of how the story spread and engulfed the media sphere:

“Welcome to the modern news cycle, Shirley Sherrod. Even in today’s fast-paced media cycle, your trip has been more jarring than most. In a few weeks, most people won’t remember your name. They may, however, remember something about you. What, exactly? Well, that depends on when and where they heard about you. […] What’s left after all these waves? Not much news. Just another day at the beach, watching the media surf the breakers.”

And here is how PBS Newshour’s executive producer summarized what had happened:

“In our judgment, this story was about how a combination of supposedly responsible organizations and institutions handled a misleading piece of information that first surfaced on a website with an avowed political agenda. The press, the administration and the interest groups involved all have blame to share for prejudging Ms. Sherrod’s words before understanding their original intent and full context.”

So, for all those who haven’t seen the entire speech (and dear editors: a simple YouTube search would have helped you get the facts), here you go. Judge for yourself and point fingers at the right direction: The media, old and new, conservative or not. Now, go, cover the other issues at hand.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9NcCa_KjXk&hl=en_US&fs=1?rel=0&color1=0x2b405b&color2=0x6b8ab6]

Top illustration: John Cuneo, Wired Magazine.

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Tekla Szymanski

Tekla is a New-York based independent content strategist and front-end web developer, a multilingual journalist, writer and editor (both offline and online).

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