Monday, October 16, 2006

Judging their news judgment

I’ve written about e-mail messages before, and I’m going to do it again.
But this time, I’m not talking about my personal inbox.

This time I want to address the inboxes of journalists from at at least seven news organizations and how they passed over one of the biggest stories of 2006.

In case you didn’t know, a significant amount of time elapsed between the time media organizations were alerted to the scandal involving Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fl., and the time that it was actually first presented to the public.

And it all goes back to e-mail.

Turns out that several people connected to the story attempted to alert media to the scandal by forwarding Foley’s messages to journalists. All the journalists really had to do was read them and investigate.

Or so it seems.

But unfortunately, it’s not that easy. While the public has an undeniable right to question their decision not to investigate the story earlier, I’m going to take this opportunity to defend those organizations for what I can only assume was a choice to use limited resources most effectively at the time.

There is an unbelievably large amount of information streaming into most news organizations, all of which require journalists to be ever so careful in determining the validity of the stories they choose to pursue. This is especially true in the age of the Internet, when anyone with access to a computer can log on and send an e-mail full of falsified information to the media.

Heard of journalists being the ultimate skeptics? There’s your reason why.

Lots of people want publicity; but most of them don’t warrant it.

That’s where news judgment comes in.

In the case of Foley, it could be argued that the editors failed to investigate the e-mails enough to make an educated news judgment. Certainly, had they had all the information, they would have pursued the story full force.

So, is this some sort of media cover-up? I highly doubt it.

Is it an example of a flaw in the system? I’d say yes.

But while this could be recorded in history as a failure on the part of the seven news organizations that sat on the information, it could also be regarded as an example of why online journalism (and blogging, specifically) is in the best interest of the public.

It’s just up to the more traditional forms of to keep up.