Journalism Doomsday Clock Begins

15 Minutes to Midnight

Despite the fact that according to a Gallop poll only about 23 percent of Americans believe that journalists have high ethical standards (hey, at least we have standards), journalism is a profession that requires training, experience, dedication, dogged research, and skin thicker than a rhino's posterior. But the profession is under attack and continuing diminution. And we don't just mean by Rupert "My Wall Street Journal" Murdoch.

There are sites that post press releases as news (you know the sites), bloggers that get paid to post positive stories, news organizations that use e-mailed photos and video without seeking independent confirmation, search engines that publish photos without applying any standards, and media barrons who consider facts to be somewhat malleable (okay, now we do mean Murdoch).  

Hence the countdown clock.

The reason for the current time: Google's decision to test a system whereby corporations, politicians, and even convicted felons can rebut news stories. The rebuttals will be given equal weight alongside stories pulled from original sites and re-posted on Google News. More important, the profession responsible for toiling over the original story will not have a voice in the process. (For the official/unofficial press release/blog/guerilla marketing posting/whatever-the-heck-it-is note from Google, which we think should be entitled, "When Bad Software Engineers Happen to Good People," see "Perspectives about the news from people in the news" here.)

Aside from demonstrating incredible cluelessness on the part of Google's "news" team–the people behind the slowest and most unreliable news aggregation site on the Web–such an experiment also reveals two hidden assumptions about the news:

1) The professional always gets the story wrong and so all interested parties (say, a company that stands to lose money because their toys are revealed to be covered in lead paint) should be given equal status.

2) There's no point in even attempting to be objective. Everybody's spinning, so why shouldn't we just add to the confusion with more spin?

Of course, the real losers are not the underpaid ink-stained wretches. The real losers here are the moms who want to know what toys are safe for their children, the patients who want to know what dangers certain drugs may pose, the voters who want to know what a candidate actually believes, the investors who want know where to put their money, and the rest of us, who just want to know.


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About jquain

Technology reporter, writer, and television correspondent, JQ has been covering the computer, communications, and consumer electronics industries for more than 25 years.A contributor to The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, PC Magazine, U.S. News & World Report and many other publications, JQ appears on CBS News television program Up to the Minute and on Fox Business.
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