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.