From Town Criers to Bloggers: How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?
Free speech has been a critical component to our democracy in the 234 years since our forefathers founded this country. It remains just as important today. The hot news doctrine is not just a bad idea, it is a dangerous one. It would create an environment where only one perspective on any given news story would be the only one that is “out there.” Consider the Shirley Sherrod story. It provides a fantastic case study for the potential, negative impact associated with limiting short news coverage. (A quick summation is available at Wikipedia for those not familiar with this story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resignation_of_Shirley_Sherrod) What if Andrew Breitbart’s had been the only voice reporting on this story for a required amount of time? What if Glenn Beck’s take on this story had been the only news source for hours at a time, and no one had been able to report the balance of the facts? How long should we protect a wrong interpretation of the facts and allow it to propagate? The legislation being proposed has the potential to protect inaccurate initial reporting and rob us all of the perspective that the secondary news cycle generates. The acceleration of information sharing that takes place today makes that even more critical. At Gather, we recently completed a study of people’s news consumption habits online – that study shows that while 42% of adults over age 24 share news online via social networks like Facebook and Twitter, greater than 90% of the 18-24 year-olds surveyed do so. As the population ages and social networks become America’s primary news sharing resource, the speed with which news is shared will continue to accelerate. The wrong information that would be protected if the hot new doctrine becomes law would have enough time to become fact in the eyes of millions of American consumers. The way you combat with “wrong” speech is with more speech – and traditional media has apparently forgotten this with its latest lobbying effort. A better way to reward the value created by those who break news (i.e. report meaningful information not previously published) would be to leverage the secondary news cycle to the benefit of the original news reporter. If the hundreds of stories that follow and create perspective in the secondary news cycle each linked back to the original piece, this would drive traffic and improve PageRank and SocialRank for the original news source. The first source to report the news would benefit from immediate traffic and better search placement over time. Instead of restricting free speech, the FTC should consider making those citations mandatory, so that media outlets and bloggers reporting breaking news see a tangible benefit from their investment in investigative journalism. In this model, that benefit comes from increasing the reporting, speech, and conversation that follows their original news report, not limiting it. Let’s start a conversation about ways to solve the media crisis that honor the core value that established the Fourth Pillar, rather than undermining it: free speech and its critical role in informing the public.