Sunday, May 27, 2007

Newsweek blurs the line between journalism and....crap


I've been a long time subscriber to Newsweek, I'll estimate that it has been at least ten years if not longer. I enjoy the format, the political cartoons and some of their regular columnists like Anna Quindlen and Howard Fineman. Even those that I don't agree with express themselves well enough.

But approximately two and a half years ago, Newsweek reported a story about Clay Aiken and cited gawker.com as a source. That's right, gawker, the gossip site which uses this disclaimer;

Gawker is a gossip site. The site publishes both rumors and conjecture, in addition to accurately reported information. Information on this site may contain errors or inaccuracies; the site's proprietors do not make warranty as to the correctness or reliability of the site's content. Links to content on and quotation of material from other Gawker sites are not the responsibility of Gawker Media.

The story was never researched (and later disputed by Clay and his people) but Newsweek took the lazy way out and just reprinted the crap from Gawker. (I'm not going to provide a direct link, if you want to put money in their pocket with a hit, you'll have to work for it.) I was appalled and not just because it was about Clay. I was appalled because even though I'm an adult and I know you don't believe everything you read, I also feel that we should be able to have a few sources that can be relied on as media with integrity...stop laughing....sort of a few “benefit of the doubt” sources that you know would at least investigate something before committing it to print. Instead we got what NYU professor of journalism Jay Rosen calls, Newsweek's “Take my word for it world.”

But with that careless reference, Newsweek no longer held that status for me. I nearly canceled my subscription but couldn't be bothered (I think we got 4 years for 99 cents or something) and my husband reads it anyway during kids' sports practices. But I simply stopped reading it unless there was some story on a specific topic that is of interest.


For instance, this week I did read some of it because it had a cover story of Bill Clinton and I'm a big fan. After I finished the story, I flipped quickly through the pages, scanning the titles until toward the end when I came across an article about Perez Hilton and his influence on the music scene. Huh? Yes, the same Perez who runs a popular gossip site that reads like some journalism project for 7th grade remedial reading. I've only been there once when I accidentally clicked on a disguised link. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Laugh at how absurd and juvenile it was, I really had no idea. Cry because this guy is making a huge living despite any apparent lack of actual skills that add value. But what the heck, that's capitalism right? If there's a market for lies, harassment, crassness and meaningless pandering to the least common denominator, go for it. Ain't America grand.

But I expect more from a “reputable” magazine who brags that they have won more awards than any other newsweekly, than glorifying this bottom dweller. The purveyors of bullshit journalism is how Clay once described the gossip sites. Newsweek noted that Hilton has an occasional R rated post. Occasional? Does the intern who researched that site also moonlight as a porn star? And now they are talking about this fre..blogger like he's some sort of music visionary who has the pulse on who is going to be the next big thing in music? Yeah, just like I believe that he just happened to fall in love with X Factor winner (and Simon Cowell protege) Leona Lewis, right about the time he got invited to an RCA party in her honor. Wouldn't surprise me if there wasn't a little anti-trashing insurance going on there. We'll treat you like a legitimate journalist for a day and you make nice when you blog about Leona. And yet I'm supposed to not raise an eyebrow when Newsweek shows this guy some respect?

Then again, this is the same magazine who chose to publish a cover story called Losing Afghanistan to the rest of the world but the US got a happy cover.

I love reading biographies and autobiographies. One of my favorites was the autobiography written by Katharine Graham, famed owner and publisher of The Washington Post during the Watergate investigation. (Ironically, The Washington Post owns Newsweek.) She went into great detail about how they required two sources to confirm anything that went to press. NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell said the same in her autobiography and lamented how quickly unconfirmed stories make their way around the internet and end up on “legitimate” news sites. Granted one could argue that Watergate was a far more serious story than a silly little lie about a celebrity. I mean just ask the gawker editor what she thinks about that when asked on Larry King Live by guest host Jimmy Kimmel.



But if fabricated gossip about a celebrity is deemed OK, where do you draw the line? Who decides what's important enough to someone's life or someone's career before they check a source better than gawker. I guess not Newsweek. I asked a similar question in the blog “Whose Life is it Anyway?”

If Newsweek is going to position itself as a bastion of news magazines and a trusted one at that, I expect a little more integrity in its sources and a few more brain cells firing before it tries to convince me that Perez Hilton is a trusted source of information for anything.

Newsweek is published along with MSNBC.com. Ah yes, MSNBC.com, the home of one of the worst entertainment sections of any major site on the internet. Where half truths and innuendo can be found daily in The Scoop, which is basically an online tabloid. The same Scoop who took a story done by a local North Carolina station doing research into Clay Aiken's very successful children's charity. (The research was likely prompted by an ex-fan turned hater trying to stir up trouble because apparently Clay didn't sign 12 things, thank her five times for her support and kiss her on both cheeks when she had a meet and greet at a concert.) So the local station did the research and found her questions unfounded and in fact that the charity gives back 85% of the money it raises, quite in line with other reputable charities. But that didn't seem to matter to The Scoop and MSNBC.com, they chose to publish just the first part of the story, the bogus accusation. Because everything about Clay brings buzz (as I noted in this blog), it got picked up everywhere, eventually requiring Clay to discuss it during a spot on CNN's Showbiz Tonight. (The good news is the charity got a lot of donations after the bogus story was brought to light.) All because MSNBC figured it was OK to imply impropriety instead of doing a positive story about this charity for children actually making a difference or better yet ignoring a NON STORY. Nah, hits mean cash..integrity be damned. And this is who Newsweek is in bed with?

I realize I'm using a lot of Clay examples but that's the area I'm most familiar with without doing a ton of additional research. Unlike Newsweek, I don't get paid for that.

It's a problem, this blurring the lines. As Paul Gillin notes in his book The New Influencers
Mainstream media has an important role to play in addressing the accuracy issue. Once a newspaper or broadcast outlet picks up the story, the information acquires a new level of legitimacy that gives it new momentum.


I guess I'll have to go elsewhere to find someone addressing the accuracy issue.


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13 comments:

tnmtmama said...

Excellent blog, and so disturbing to see the media going in such a direction.

ivy said...

Thanks for saying what I've been thinking for awhile now. Up until several months ago, I considered Newsweek a legitimate media source. It was a shock to find they were not. And since MSNBC became a gossip site, I've switched all the computers I manage to a different home page. My husband and sons had their computers set to MSNBC. Well I found more interesting sites for them and they are happy with my recommendations. It has been over a year since I made the switch and none of them went back to MSNBC. We don't do gossip even celebrity gossip in my home and if a once respected organization goes that route, well they lose not only me but those I influence as customers. I may not be in the right demographic (age and sex) but I have great influence on others who are what they want and I don't hesitate to use that influence.

NBC has also lost a couple of late night viewers in the desired demographic thanks to me and I'm proud that my family respects me enough to change. I love that Kimmel is doing so well in the ratings. He may not be perfect but he is a class act compared to some others.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this. One good thing that came about as a result of this "mess" we went though are wonderful supportive and informative blogs like yours.
I had not seen the Kimmel interview with Gawker. It was great. Your forgot about GMA having PH on as an authority as well...their credibility went in the dump with me as a result of that. The media sources think we are too stupid to know that they are not checking their facts and that the general public doesn't know what a low life PH and his ilk are. I don't expect much of Gawker or PH but I do expect credibility out of Newsweek and GMA. Without it they will see declining sales and viewers of that they can be sure. Thanks for bring the truth.

The ConCLAYve-Nan said...

Thank you Corabeth for a great blog. I actually did cancel my subscription to Newsweek during that gawker-cited article. No, not because it was about Clay. But because it was NEWSWEEK. I expected more. But no more. How sad and is it any wonder actual discourse about real ideas is replaced with platitudes and rhetoric?

Vox Vixen said...

Terrific blog. The state of journalism is in a sorry state. If it happens with Clay Aiken stories, you can bet it is happening with a lot of others. I've gotten to the point where I don't believe anything I read.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I see PH's picture or any article about him I want to puke.

It is incredible to me that he would be given any consideration as someone who has his finger on the pulse of music!!! He's got his finger on something and it ain't music.

PH has zero credibility. Shame on these news organizations for such lazy tabloid-like journalism. So much for journalistic integrity.

PH reeks. It appears to me he's in bed with many in the entertainment world.

Not a good though.

Anonymous said...

That is a great blog. When my Newsweek subscription ran out, I did not renew because they quoted gawker just one too many times. They had used that gossip site prior to the Clay story and that had me doubting their integrity. The Clay story pushed me over the edge. The Philadelphia Inquirer is another supposedly "serious" paper that has quoted gawker as a source for stories. I now just get the Sunday Inquirer and that is strictly for the NY Times crossword puzzle. I think the state of journalism today is pathetic and the fact that Newsweek and MSNBC have fallen to this level is just another example of how truly low this profession has sunk.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your blog!! I, too, cancelled my subscription to Newsweek after the gawker citing. I did not realize when I began this journey of following the career of a new singer that I would find out how corrupt and broken the state of journalism is. It's opened my eyes to how the media is controlling our society and how easily manipulated the American people are. It's very distressing but I'm glad I know so that I can educate and search for answers for myself.

Anonymous said...

Great blog! I plan to not renew my Newsweek subscription which I've had for many years. Have you considered a letter to the editor at Newsweek to show how irresponsible they have become?

pax said...

I too have been stunned by the extent to which gossip sites and gossips have invaded formerly respected journalism and news sources. In Canada, I was flabbergasted to see Perez H on our CTV National NEWS!!! Not the entertainment show, not a gossip show, not a talk show, but on the National Evening News! You can bet they heard from me about that, but I fear this creeping invasion of salacious content to pander to the voyeurism of listeners to try to increase ratings, is just beginning.

“Gossip is a sort of smoke that comes from the dirty tobacco-pipes of those who diffuse it: it proves nothing but the bad taste of the smoker.” ~ George Eliot

berkeley said...

Corabeth, this would be funny if it weren't so sad.

Great, great blog that deserves a wide audience.

claycherie said...

This was more an editorial than a blog Corabeth. It was truly first class. I wish everybody could read it.

Anonymous said...

Today's journalism is dead! It's highly tainted! I hope a lot of people read this blog. Who is this Hilton guy anyway? I've never heard of him. Thanks for the blog.