On Gawker and Journalistic Responsibility…

I’m not keen on going into details, mostly because anyone who doesn’t know shouldn’t be informed on the specifics (and I’ll get to why later) and anyone else doesn’t need a recap.

But the general thrust is that Gawker media ran an article that they shouldn’t have, and was forced to retract it after severe blowback by the community at large, despite the union’s protest that such unilateral action should not be accepted.  There is a process, they say, and they can’t let the business side of things subvert that process, even if the article isn’t deemed appropriate.

On one hand, I understand that.  Once you say, “Well… okay…” and give in without a fight, that sets a precedent.  Now your business-side can yank anything they feel hurts the bottom line and say, “Well, you let us do it with this article…” and once you let executives do that, it really kills the journalistic integrity that is vital for a publication to be given any weight in the public eye.

But there is another side that Internet reporting is finally starting to discover now that they’ve won the war with the old guard of media; journalistic responsibility.

Journalism has a responsibility not only to report the truth, but also to report the relevant.  There was absolutely nothing relevant about the article that was removed.  It didn’t expose any blatant hypocrisy.  It didn’t show a dark side that no one realized existed.  It was a hit piece, designed to do damage to a rival website, and nothing more.

Make no mistake, the old guard failed their responsibility quite often, and so this is hardly a new conundrum.  Back when the war for journalism was still being fought, the Internet reporting community felt only one question truly mattered; “Is it true?”  And when you’re fighting a pretty obviously compromised and corrupted fourth estate, that’s really the only question that needed to matter.

But now, as the bulk of Americans (and possibly the world) are now turning to Internet reporting like Gawker as their primary source of information… “is it true” isn’t enough on its own.  Hopefully, this is a lesson Gawker has learned, and other information centers on the Internet will learn through this example.

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