Saturday, August 01, 2009

New Media, Otherwise the SOS

Michael Vick had a full career with the New England Patriots yesterday, considering it only lasted four hours and existed exclusively in cyberspace, or to be more precise, in the wide acreage of cyberspace inhabited by the excitable and delusional.

Bill Belichick's philosophical refusal to give categorical answers about possible personnel decisions finally bit, or at least scratched him on the ass, as the Patriots' coach's hypothetical evaluation of Vick as an employable football player was transmogrified in no time to reports that Vick was in Foxboro working out for the team's coaching staff. With photos yet. The New England franchise , whose office personnel was probably threatening mass violence if they had to keep fielding phone calls from pet lovers, eventually denied the report-not that that will stop people from believing it right this second.

"Falsehood Sweeps Internet" is not a page one, or page 52F, headline. Millions of pixels of fantasy sweep through every computer on earth each day, propelled not so much by technology as by the immutable law of demography that there's a sucker born every minute. Sports fans, whose calling requires high levels of both emotion and the willing suspension of disbelief, are particularly susceptible to taking hearsay as gospel. I wouldn't mention this odd little afternoon of rumor-mongering if it weren't for one thing.

Among the excited and delusional rumor-mongerers was the "Miami Herald," which posted an item on its Web site as a straight news story saying that it could, as an institution, confirm that Vick was somewhere in Foxboro throwing footballs at the behest of the Pats.

Major American newspaper makes fool of itself, alas, is news-at least to me. I have no idea (although plenty of suspicions) as to how this report came to be published in Miami. Probably it had a lot to do with the fact that many newspaper management types such as senior editors have not yet wrapped their brains around the truth that placing a story on the Web site is EXACTLY the same as printing it in the paper. It's your information, and your organization is responsible for it. The fact that the Internet allows stories to be altered or erased as quickly as they're posted doesn't matter. Ever hear of screen shots? Putting up the day's hot gossip because it's "out there" is, from a business point of view, insane. The Miami Herald is not, repeat not, in competition with Internet competition to be first with the most intriguing bullshit is not a game newspapers can win. They shouldn't play.

In its collective slow-motion suicide, the newspaper industry has forgotten one of its most important functions. What large news-gathering organizations determine is NOT true, and hence they don't report, is as or more vital to maintaining a well-informed citizenry as what they do publish. The ancient military maxim that the first reports are always wrong is a guiding principle of journalism. At least, it used to be. Now, skilled reporters take trade deadline gossip which once upon a time would've been lies swapped with baseball executives in hotel bars and make it minute by minute Twitters of speculation.

This is ten time the work to produce one-tenth the actual factual information. That hardly seems cost-efficient. From a marketing standpoint, it couldn't be more counterproductive. The more pretentious members of traditional news organizations always say that the true value of the old media is their superior journalistic technique and scrupulous attention to making sure they have the facts and nothing but.

Not in the Miami Herald's sports section yesterday, it wasn't. To me, anyhow, that newspaper now has the same credibility as None to speak of. This makes me sad, and not a little mad as well.

The City News Bureau of Chicago, Illinois was a wire service that covered that fascinating community for decades. On the newsroom wall was a slogan: "If Your Mother Says She Loves You, Check It Out."

The City News Bureau went out of business awhile ago. So did its slogan, I guess.


At 9:10 AM, Blogger Grantland Rice said...

How did it bite him in the ass? I dont think he gives a shit.


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