Saturday, December 24, 2005

Shining Efforts in Journamalism

by Tom Bozzo

While the Kos diarist who ran the story of the "Little Red Book" hoax blames the UMass Dartmouth professors for the incident, the blame is more properly placed with the journalists who reported and published the poorly sourced story in the first place.

In the original account, it's reported that the professors had been contacted to comment on the bigger domestic spying story:
The professors had been asked to comment on a report that President Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to spy on as many as 500 people at any given time since 2002 in this country.
And assuming this is accurately reported, they had one heck of an anecdote to relate to the reporter. The question is, what should a good reporter (and the reporter's editor) have done with it?

Well, for one thing, obtaining a firsthand account would have been useful, even if there was no reason to believe that the professors were misrepresenting what they'd been told. The original reporting said that the student had not been directly contacted for the story, which was a major defect. That would have given the reporter a much better chance to collect verifiable details of the story and to determine if they held water — in this case, they didn't.

There was also no report of the reporter obtaining, or attempting to obtain, a statement from DHS. An official denial, yes even from a Bush agency, should carry some weight against a second-hand story of a civil liberties abuse.

In short, the reporter didn't do enough reporting, and his editors didn't seem to require it, before running with the story. Moreover, the journalistic failures are gross enough that it's hardly necessary to convene a blogger ethics panel to figure it out.

As for us monkeys with keyboards, skepticism of stories that are too good to be true is , of course, essential. But it's not as if the original source was a student blog transmitted up through the MSB and diffused from there. It's garbage in, garbage out. Since things that happen in the provinces will often be reported first by papers not unlike the Standard-Times, it would be nice if what they reported weren't garbage.
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