Traditional Journalism not Helping Itself by Falling for Wikipedia Hoax

By May 11, 2009

Last week was a major fail for traditional journalism, which rages so ineffectively against the dying of its light. Journalism stubbed its toe against the truth when reporters reproduced a hoax quote taken from Wikipedia in obituaries for composer Mauricel Jarre. The quote, added to Wikipedia by Irish college student Shane Fitzgerald after the composer's death, was designed to expose the lack of journalistic rigor in blogs and the small press. "I was wrong," Fitzgerald wrote in the Irish Times. "Quality newspapers in England, India, America and as far away as Australia had my words in their reports of Jarre's


This isn’t refreshing . . . but, yeah, it is. Especially after The Wire creator David Simon broke my heart last week by saying that traditional journalists (i.e., those backed by a wall-load of institutional prestige) are the only ones qualified to cover City Hall.

Simon, creator of one of the most revolutionary shows in television history, has become an old-school reactionary upon entering the print/internet fray.

One of the main defenses print still holds against internet journalism is fact checking. Even after Jason Blair and Judith Miller.

Fact checking is one of the a proiri virtues that print throws against the internet in its losing war with new media. It is this manifestation of journalistic integrity that will surely die when people no longer turn to print for their news.

So that was the old argument, anyway: in replacing print, the internet was cannibalizing Truth. Every time a Seattle Post-Intelligencer or Rocky Mountain News folds its print edition, objectivity cries.

No one complained like this when it was newspapers cannibalizing themselves, as in the curious "Death by Evening Publication" that turned San Francisco into a one-paper town as The San Francisco Chronicle strangled its competitor, The San Francisco Examiner.

Competition in this city essentially stopped with the the 1965 joint-operation agreement between The Chronicle and The Examiner, which made the latter an evening paper, beginning the slow death of the Examiner.

In 2000, the Hearst Corporations, owner of the Examiner, bought the competing (and more successful) Chronicle. To avoid antitrust claims, the Examiner was sold, along with a $66 million subsidiary, and it was eventually turned into a free tabloid.

The newspaper industry is responsible for San Francisco becoming a one-paper town. But now it’s the internet holding the cord to the Chronicle's throat (whose online edition, incidentally, is one of the ten major online papers in the U.S.). Darwinian business measures are OK when the technology is the same, but if the technology behind competing models is different, it's not?

That's wrong. The internet is not Ivan Drago and print isn't The Italian Stallion.

It's well known that the number of news readers has grown with the Internet, and it is becoming clearer that traditional news institutions are not the the only ones who have that ineffable authority binding only them to the truth.

"Fact ownership" has been one of the few things separating the traditional media, in their mind, from the world of bloggers and citizen journalists -- any source of information not based on a fading technology and tried-and-true advertising metrics.

As it fights to hold on to whatever influence its aging model might have, journalism-with-a-capital-J bites itself when its hold on the truth is revealed to be no less tenuous than that of the anarchic new media it opposes.

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