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Is the Internet hurting journalistic values?

Clark Hoyt, the public editor of The New York Times, has written two columns in a row about the 24-hour news cycle and the impact of the Internet on journalists. In his Feb. 8 column, Hoyt asks if the Internet is undermining the values of print journalism. He describes how the rush to be first may have affected the story of Caroline Kennedy stepping down from the U.S. Senate race in New York.   In this week’s column, Hoyt quotes Web editors who provide a somewhat different view. 

Read both columns and tell me what you think. Is the Internet to blame for the problems in the Caroline Kennedy story? What could the New York Times have done differently? Do the advantages of the Internet outweigh the negatives? Is there a lesson for editors in these columns?

Post your thoughtful answers to the comments section by the start of class on Thursday, Feb. 19.

  1. Rachel Sullivan
    February 18, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Read both columns and tell me what you think. Is the Internet to blame for the problems in the Caroline Kennedy story? What could the New York Times have done differently? Do the advantages of the Internet outweigh the negatives? Is there a lesson for editors in these columns?

    I think the Internet is probably to blame for the Caroline Kennedy story. However, the problems resulting from it probably could have been avoided by checking the sources more carefully before writing a story based on a claim that seemed a little sketchy. The advantages of the Internet are vast. On the spot, to the second news is generally beneficial. I do agree with Hoyt that paper reporting makes time for more quality. However, the benefits of instant news probably outweigh the negatives of lower quality. I think editors have to edit more carefully than ever in order to keep up with the fast paced website news content. This would include checking sources more carefully, even if it means the story is delayed for a short while.

  2. Brittany Sturek
    February 18, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    I think that the Internet was a big problem in the Kennedy story, but it wasn’t the only one. Like we discussed in class, we can never assume. The editors talked about their sources and thought they were legitimate; but this was a big story and I think they should have been more careful, especially since they were anonymous sources.

    Like Hoyt said in his second column, the facts of the story about the plane landing in the Hudson didn’t have to be completely accurate about the number of people on board because it was happening so fast; it truly was breaking news. But the Kennedy story wasn’t breaking news. It was very interesting, and I think a lot of people wanted to know why she dropped out. But being the first shouldn’t conflict with being the best and most accurate. Hurting someone’s reputation is a big deal.

    The Internet does have many advantages, and I’d say they outweigh the disadvantages. But I think people who read news online need to understand that online news, though easily accessible and more up-to-date, isn’t always going to be as thorough as something published in print.

  3. Morgan Demmel
    February 18, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    I think the New York Times could have prevented the problems in the Caroline Kennedy story with more extensive reporting. The reporter was worried about posting the story quickly, which caused him to be less cautious in his research and reporting. The Internet had an impact on the problems in this story, but it shares the blame with the reporter. Even though the story had already been published on another site, the New York Times could have taken a little more time to discuss if the quote was necessary or if it would be harmful to Kennedy’s reputation.

    The advantages of the Internet outweigh the disadvantages. Although the Internet allows stories to be published much more quickly, the same amount of reporting and editing should still go into a story published on the Internet. The New York Times did a good job of reporting on the plane crash and gave a thorough and well-rounded report of the story. For breaking news like this, the Internet provided a huge advantage to readers.

    These columns are a reminder to editors to be as thorough and as ethical in reporting as possible, regardless of the medium.

  4. Amanda Bergstrom
    February 18, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    When I was reading the first article I felt that the New York Times website was very much to blame for the problems surrounding Caroline Kennedy. The reporters wanted to get the story out as fast as possible and it seemed that they did not take the time to double check their facts before posting the story. Then after reading the second article I feel that even though the reporters and editors should have done more before the story went out, they were not to blame for the problems. While there still should have been parts of the story withheld and looked over, the fact that the New York Times did their job is not in question.

    I do think the advantages of the Internet for news outweigh the negatives. The Internet provides new and current news 24 hours a day. It also provides a way for readers to become involved with the news and share their sides of what they experience. Also for the faster paced world that news has evolved into makes it harder for readers to pick up a newspaper and have the time to really read it.

    I think that the lesson that editors need to take away from this is that even though writing for a website is different than writing for a newspaper it doesn’t mean you throw the rules out the window. There are still the same practices and ethics that need to be followed, even more so since readers are getting the stories so quickly.

  5. John Ray
    February 18, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    I think the Internet is somewhat to blame for the Caroline Kennedy story. Although the Internet is a great tool for journalist it can also cause harm, as it did in this case. In a world where journalist today strive to be the first with the story. The Internet makes it that much easier to to post it quickly, and get it out, without checking facts or anything like that.

    So, as for what The Times could have done differently, they should have waited on the story, and made sure everything was correct instead of trying to be the first with the story.

    As for advantages, I would have to agree with Hoyt in saying that the Internet is the future, but people are going to have to slow down, check their facts, and make sure everything everything is correct before they do post it. If everyone does that the Internet will work well for everyone, journalists and readers alike.

  6. Katy Healey
    February 18, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    The Internet is not to blame for the problems in the Caroline Kennedy story. The anonymous source—though credible by The Times policy standards, apparently—was bound to raise a few eyebrows among readers. Understandably, the reporters wanted to report the story as promptly as possible. However, they should not have compromised accuracy for speed whether the article was published online or in print. The reporters may blame the Internet for creating pressure to release the story quickly, but in reality, the blame ultimately falls on those who made the decision to include the anonymous source in haste.

    In my opinion, reporting is not about beating your competitor to the story; it is about finding the truth and reporting it fairly and correctly, even if that means publishing a story 12 minutes—or 12 hours—after the paper down the street.

    The Internet is a useful tool. It allows information to be accessed more quickly and easily. Even so, precision cannot be sacrificed simply because editors can release stories to the public with the click of a mouse. In fact, the opposite is true. In the article, Hoyt said news on the Internet reaches more people than news in print. This fact makes it all the more important to do the job right the first time. News organizations should use the Internet as another medium to inform the reader, not spread half-truths.

  7. Marcy Pursell
    February 18, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    I don’t think the Internet was the problem with the Kennedy story. I know producing a timely story is what newspapers shoot for, but I think in this situation it would have been better to wait longer and have more facts compiled. Rushing the story with incorrect facts makes the newspaper look bad and they lose credibility. I think that unless a reader is hooked on Internet news, he or she will just read it the first time they see it and not go back to see updates. Just like in a newspaper, I think the first print is the most important. If a reader views a story one day and then doesn’t pick up a paper the next day, he or she may not discover that there was a correction in the previous day’s paper. This can lead to problems.
    To solve the Kennedy problem, the Times could have waited to gather more information before posting anything on the internet. I think the advantages of the Internet do outweigh the disadvantages because you can get the information much faster. It gives readers the opportunity to find out information immediately and more up-to-date than television.
    I think the lesson editors learn is an old one. Always double or triple-check an article before it’s posted or printed. The smallest mistakes can have the worst effects.

  8. Mekita
    February 18, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    The Internet is only partially to blame for the Caroline Kennedy snafu. While it is unfortunate that the anonymous source was so heavily relied on to make the story, I’m sure this source didn’t stand alone. The critics and skeptics were bound to unleash their wrath on Kennedy sooner or later. It’s too bad they couldn’t even wait until she was given a fair shot at the Senate seat. That said, I am not condoning what Hakim and Confessore did; undoubtedly, they should have set aside the thrill of getting the story first and worked harder to get more out of their source. They should have found more sources too. I am confused by the Times standards that Hoyt refers to — is there really a such thing as a credible single-source story? Apparently the Times thinks so. Wow, that is news to me.

    Yes, the advantages of the Internet far outweigh the disadvantages. The Internet has provided society with a means for unprecedented interconnectedness. It is up to us to use this device wisely and respect it and each other just as we had prior to its invention. If this story had been written in the 1950s, I’m pretty sure one anonymous single-source wouldn’t have cut it. The desire to get the story on the Web first is a cop-out. Journalists should always, always strive for the truth — not vague, semi-dependable claims.

    Hoyt makes a great point in his second column that the Times hasn’t become completely unreliable. The plane crash stories exhibit the newspaper’s ability to use the Internet to its full and best potential. Now it’s just a matter of doing so not just once in a while, but always.

  9. John Schreier
    February 19, 2009 at 12:00 am

    The Internet can be a bane to reporting, but its benefits seem to outweigh the downsides. The Caroline Kennedy fiasco is really everyone’s fault. There really isn’t a need to rush into action so soon because the story didn’t need to be breaking news. Of the New York Times hadn’t felt the need to rush the story, everything would be much better. Caroline Kennedy’s decision not to run for Senate wasn’t a life-or-death situation at stake, and sometime I feel that should be the guideline to using breaking news. Something momentous like the passing of an important bill in Congress (like the bailout package) deserves the attention much more.

    The two plane crashed definitely deserved breaking news coverage, and the Internet is the perfect medium for that. Word needs to spread quickly on such an important event, like a plane going down. Beyond the obvious newsworthiness of the situation, it’s imperative that people who may have some connection to the flight are alerted, and the Internet and breaking news coverage is a solid way to do that. The viewer-taken pictures are a nice touch that can tell the story better than a reporter, and I remember the best video from 9/11 came from a personal camcorder.

    All in all, the Internet should be used for large stories that affect many people. A possible candidate for the Senate doesn’t need every detail of her life investigated for breaking news. It’s really not all that important in the scope of things.

  10. Krista Vogel
    February 19, 2009 at 12:27 am

    While I believe that the Internet is a great medium for news, I do think it is to blame for the flawed Kennedy story. Newsrooms compete with one another to have the most breaking news on their Web sites, and sometimes they lose sight of what is truly important in journalism – accuracy. That is exactly what happened in this case. Anonymous sources were used, even one who would not be quoted. The article also had barely any facts to back up its claims. It’s almost as if The Times looked over its usual boundaries and requirements simply to post the story before any other paper could get to it. By the time the article was updated online and run the next morning, the errors and holes in the story were fixed. The Times had a lot of backpedaling to do to deflate the impact of the inaccurate article. Instead, they should have edited the article more carefully by checking sources and making sure the article had legitimate coverage before it was posted on the Web site.

    As I said before, I think the Internet is a great media outlet. Not only can readers read copy; they can watch videos, see photos and comment on articles they are particularly interested in. This provides a great advantage to readers because the Internet is extremely accessible, interactive and even free. It is quite obvious that the Web is the direction in which news is headed for. The biggest flaw I see is what happened with the Kennedy story. While it’s great that news can be at one’s fingertips, accuracy is extremely important in the journalistic world. Inaccuracies undermine the principles that journalists find so important and take away the trust the reader puts in the media. Editors should be just as skeptical when editing stories for the Web as they are with those for print and be less concerned about being the first to break the story.

  11. Andrea Vasquez
    February 19, 2009 at 12:48 am

    This is a weird, transitional time for journalism. We’re moving somewhat out of print and into the Internet, exploring different features and, now, dealing with tighter budgets. The Internet is a huge fascination for just about every publication – I think it’s pretty indisputable now that the Web is here to stay. But as we navigate through this transition, it’s natural that there will be some missteps. Feeling out how to develop standards for Web content is can cause some of those missteps.
    I think the juggle between speed and accuracy is a widespread dilemma. The informality that Hoyt mentioned may make reporters and editors even more lax, because reporters are writing for a more casual medium than the straight-backed, AP Style-thumbing writing they’re used to (although this shouldn’t be absent in Web writing). On the other hand, as Hoyt noted, the immediacy of the Internet also means a lot of people can see those mistakes.
    Although the Internet contributed to the problems in the Kennedy story, I don’t think those would have been entirely avoided otherwise. The Times probably should have been stricter, but I think that will come with time; as journalism grows more accustomed to the new medium, publications will learn from their successes and mistakes and develop some standards and protocol to cut down on problems and maximize the Internet’s potential to better perform their journalistic duty.

  12. Mac Barber
    February 19, 2009 at 12:56 am

    I think the Internet is partly to blame for the Caroline Kennedy story. However, the editors are also to blame for treating the Internet as an infallible source. Just because the Internet makes deadlines come and go faster and faster doesn’t mean the process of editing and checking sources has to be compromised. Yes, the process has to speed up, but that is just a natural consequence of the Internet. The New York Times could have checked on their sources, simple as that.

    I think the advantages of the Internet outweigh the disadvantages. The disadvantage of information being less reliable can be remedied simply by putting more effort into checking information. The faster news cycle just means editors and writers have to be more on their toes when checking information and catching mistakes.

    Hoyt’s columns told me that editors’ jobs are only getting harder with the Internet as a major tool. They must be even more vigilant and skeptical when it comes to sources and information.

  13. Jaclyn Tan
    February 19, 2009 at 1:11 am

    I think the Internet has hurt journalistic values to some extent. Because there is a never-ending deadline in online journalism, reporters compete to see who reports something first. I think the Caroline Kennedy story was affected by this competition. Print journalists would probably have waited for more concrete information before putting it in print. Anonymous sources, no matter how “well-placed,” seem suspicious to me. The New York Times’s editors put its credibility on the line by lending its trust to the anonymous source. When the conflicting information surfaced from both sides, the reputation of the Times took a blow for sure. I think the reporters should have at least found documents such as tax records to support the source’s claims.

    Putting something on the Web seems more dangerous than putting it in print. Once something is online, anyone can copy, paste and distribute it to any number of Web sites in a matter of seconds. So even though the New York Times updated the first scathing quote about Kennedy, the quote could already be traveling around the Web at lightning speed. Also, information placed online has a more permanent presence because it could remain in databases forever until it is deleted.

    But as Hoyt points out, the Internet can be beneficial to reporting. The Internet connects people around the world, so exchange of information is much easier. Anyone can access information to learn more about any topic. But I think that it’s up to journalists to wield the power of the Internet responsibly. They must be conscious about how quickly information (and misinformation) can be disseminated on the Internet, and thus be adamant about accuracy when reporting.

  14. Katrina Fischman
    February 19, 2009 at 1:52 am

    In the Kennedy story, I think the internet is partly to blame, but the lack of good judgment by the editors is also. Yes, they were pressured to publish the story quickly because readers want instant information when an event occurs, and this meant less time for editing. However, that is not an excuse to discard journalism ethics. The quote about Kennedy sounded as though it was someone’s rant, and the quote did not add much value to the story. Though a similar source expressed the same view, that does not justify publishing an ill-spirited comment for the sake of having a quote. The reader did not know the source as he/she was anonymous, and therefore, could not judge whether the comment was relevant, true, etc. The editors at the New York Times should have written more context regarding the credentials of the source and also considered the value added by using the quote in the story.

    The advantages of the internet outweigh the bad. While the internet creates pressure on newspapers to constantly publish information the moment events occur, the internet allows newspapers to interact with audiences in new ways. Readers can submit photos and videos of events, showing the world coverage where a journalist might not have been to capture. Blogs are available for readers to comment, letting news organizations know the interests of its readers, which leads to story ideas.

    These columns serve as a lesson to editors: In the fast-paced world of the internet, constant pressures to be the first paper with the news is not an excuse for abandoning accuracy and good judgment. Like the second article said, balance is key.

  15. Stephen Youngerman
    February 19, 2009 at 4:18 am

    Is the Internet to blame for the problems in the Caroline Kennedy story? What could the New York Times have done differently? Do the advantages of the Internet outweigh the negatives? Is there a lesson for editors in these columns

    The Internet is not solely to blame for the innaccuracies published, but it had a lot to do with it. As many have said, the reporters should have verified the information and taken more time to fill the gaps of the story. It was clearly an unfinished story that needed development and to straighten out it’s facts. Let the folks on Twitter be the “first to break” the story. People read The New York Times for a reason and its to get in-depth, professional and reliable news coverage. No matter if it’s printed on a newspaper or typed into a text box, The Times should never sacrifice accuracy for speed.
    The advantages of the Internet go on for days. It has drastically changed the way people live, including how they get their news. It’s free, fast and you don’t even have to get out of bed. Also, it is the perfect medium to hear mass opinion on hot-button subjects or stories. Elected officials can scan comments on their YouTube videos for feedback (mostly negative but still very fun).
    The lesson for editors is: the already hard job you have is only getting harder as more Web-based newspapers and online communities are sprouting each day. Prepare to find the perfect balance of speed vs. accuracy.

  16. Brittany Claxton
    February 19, 2009 at 10:45 am

    The job of any communication medium is to report the news, meaning what is true and accurate. There are guidelines and appropriate processes that have been established to aid journalists so that they may do just that. While the Internet has provided an incredible amount of convenient access and distribution opportunity, it should not be paid any less attention concerning its news reporting than any other medium, and that is the job of the assigned reporter. Likewise, Hoyt’s columns acknowledge the impact of media that are only concerned with beating competitors or completing a story by deadline. Time should not be a detrimental factor for the audience but a challenge and expectation to be overcome by journalists. Of course the Internet is not going away any time soon and it is the responsibility of any news source and their journalists to prepare and present news as factually and timely as possible.

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