Accuracy in Media

At today’s opening session of a two-day Federal Trade Commission workshop on the future of journalism, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington took Rupert Murdoch of News Corp. and other media titans to task for pointing fingers at Internet media innovators and calling them names. She said established news organization can and should learn from the newcomers, and vice versa.

“Ever since we decided to launch The Huffington Post,,” she said, “I’ve talked about how the future of journalism will be a hybrid future where traditional media players embrace the ways of new media (including transparency, interactivity and immediacy) and new media companies adopt the best practices of old media (including fairness, accuracy and high-impact investigative journalism).”

But about the same time on the other side of the blogosphere, James Joyner of Outside The Beltway suggested that the exact opposite has happened.

With Politico and major bloggers as a case study, he said the two have adopted each other’s worst characteristics. He noted in passing the “increasing professionalization of the blogosphere, with major blogs taking on many of the aspects of the mainstream press that we once scorned” and then detailed how Politico and other mainstream outlets have become too much like blogs:

All of the major media outlets these days have blogs; some have oodles of them. And Politico is really the culmination of this process, with the blogs and the reporting virtually indistinguishable in both appearance and ethic.

As we’ve moved into the 24/7/365 mode of reporting, the old customs of careful fact-checking and multiple sources have been under pressure. That was true, to some extent, even in the pre-Internet days (such as the wild speculation during the live reporting on the attempted assassination of President Reagan) but it’s really ramped up of late.

With the online versions of the papers becoming of equal importance — if not supplanting entirely — the print versions, the need to generate page views has proliferated. One has only to look at the layouts of the pages to see that: Most longer stories are spread out over multiple pages simply to generate artificial page views, and every page has various widgets to entice people to click through to the Most E-mailed, Most Popular, Most Sexy stories.

And the bloggy ethic of get it up fast, promote it, and correct it later if you’re wrong has gradually taken over. Except, sometimes, the last part.

That sounds about right. Huffington defined the ideal, and Joyner described reality. Hopefully reality will move toward the ideal as journalism moves into the future.

A good step would be for the Rupert Murdochs and Arianna Huffingtons of the world to stop pointing fingers and calling each other names — and if the liberal media, both old and new, actually practiced fairness and accuracy rather than just talking about it. But that may be too much to ask.

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