Jumping The Gun: an editorial

What do the Tiger Woods incident, the Black Screen of Death story, the Apple Tablet and Arriana Huffington squaring off against Rupert Murdoch all have in common? They highlight examples of why, whether you run a ‘real’ press corps, TV news, or are an online blogger, you need to spend at least two or three minutes doing some research before posting something.

In the case of Tiger Woods, it’s an example of television news not even being on the ball on something that’s ‘leaked from the gossip pages to mainstream news’ as one Toronto newscaster put it. In the noon broadcast, the TV Talkback segment of Toronto’s CTV branch was going to do a poll on whether Tiger Woods should speak up on the whole ‘thing’. In an example of showing how ‘old media’ can be behind on the times, Tiger Woods (or maybe his legal counsel) had posted just such a statement hours earlier. Chalk one up for ‘new media’ (which is an archaic term in it’s own right).

The Black Screen of Death (KSoD) story is one that’s been around for a few days. The long and short is that after the blog of anti-malware provider Prevx announced that the latest round of security updates for Microsoft’s operating systems (Windows 7, Vista and XP) were causing a black log in screen for ‘millions’ of people. This story spread throughout the tech blogosphere, even though there was no real evidence of this. Online news sites that actually took the time follow up found that there was no major spike in consumers having an issue with the dreaded “KSoD”, and for those who did suffer from it, malware was the root cause. Prevx itself has actually issued a quasi apology for the nonsense their initial blog post caused.

The KSoD story is like the mirror image of the Apple Tablet story. All bluster and no substance. The only difference is that the Apple Tablet has been rumoured to be due out next quarter for the past 2 or 3 years. The amount of virtual ink wasted on unsubstantiated speculation for the new devices is staggering. To reiterate all the links here would be a daunting task, and not provide you, the reader, with any new insight, so I’ll refrain from that. I guess we can all give thanks that all the ink was virtual, meaning that very few trees died in service of the non-news of the year.

Finally, on December 1st old-media mogul Rupert Murdoch and new media rock star Arianna Huffington squared off on whether news should be free or ‘for pay’. Obviously Murdoch is on the ‘for pay’ side, to the point where delisting his news properties on Google, and inking a deal with it’s competitor Bing is a possibility. Huffington is on the other side of the fence, believing in the power of citizen journalism, and people writing online for free, or little pay.

It would be easy to side with Huffington on the matter, after all, I think journalism school is a waste of time, and crushes the independent spirit, and the quality of television news is abysmal.  In the rush to embrace the new, we stand a chance of losing something important. One of the most vital capabilities of a well funded news organization is its ability to let their journalists really investigate a story, sometimes for months, to bring real insight to the matter. Citizen journalists are an amazing source for breaking news, but if we were to depend on this for all our news, we’ll probably never see another Watergate story break, or Pentagon Papers or Iran/Contra scandal be exposed to the same levels.

Part of the blame lies with the old media, which isn’t the same as it used to be as most news organizations are merely tentacles of vast multi-headed, multinational conglomerates, too afraid to talk about someone like Sibel Edmonds. At the same time, the financial realities of an online news organization is that it’s difficult to financially back an endeavour of Watergate levels.

Finally, readers don’t get to get off easily either.  As we all demand more content for less money, we can only expect that the quality will suffer.  We collectively also have a habit of following what everyone else is saying, especially if we’re twitified.  When it comes to investigative journalism, it seems we’re more content to watch the whole ‘he said – she said’ model play out until someone posts a relevant link.

That doesn’t mean that the outlook is bleak.  Even though online news is relatively new, there are outfits finding a way to tread through the whole revenue vs. real work minefield.   In the meantime, it’s up to old media to find a model that works for them.  Personally, I think Murdoch would be crazy to delist from Google, but that battle is as time worn as the old man screaming at the kids to get off his lawn.