Unfortunately, the Internet's major advantage has also shown itself to be a major weakness. In its rush to get information ready for the next 'scheduled news program," a term used to describe updates, simple steps are sometimes missed, giving proof to the old saying 'Haste makes waste." Waste is this case takes the form of missed facts, poor copyediting or, in some cases, out-and-out libel.
|For more information on Internet "scoops" read J.D. Lasica's article "Get It Right, Get It Fast"|
On February 4, 1998, the Wall Street Journal posted a story on their website alleging a White House steward was a witness to a private meeting of President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Shortly after the on-line publication of the story, the Journal recanted its story, saying that its source backed out. By that time a number of papers across the country had picked up the story for their print editions.
A similar situation occurred with The Dallas Morning Times, where a story about Lewinsky was posted on their website, and then removed a few hours later. This story received a much larger amount of coverage in the print media creating an embarrassing scene for the Dallas Morning Times.
Many critics blame the Monica Lewinsky story and, in particular Internet personality Matt Drudge, with fueling the rush to get any kind of information out to the public without any checks. A rush of false reporting hurt the reputation of several papers and caused a backlash among readers. Ted Koppel, anchor of ABC's 'Nightline", said it succinctly, 'If you succumb to competitive pressures and you're willing to sacrifice quality and context and completeness, I think that's going to rear up a bite us in the ass."
The San Jose Mercury Center, one of the first news sites with dedicated reporters, watched the Lewinsky story play out and analyzed the "first come, first win" scenario. Managing Editor Bruce Koon, said, "In TV, you're dead if all your competitors have the story and you're holding back. On the Web, readers can find lots of sites reporting speculation and rumor. But then they say, 'OK, now I want to know what really happened.' They want information that has been vetted through all the usual checks and balances and that only happens with a little bit of time."
With the continued push by news 'channels" on the Internet, the pressure to get that big story out first will become an increasingly difficult voice to ignore. Competition will increase the value of scoops and breaking news to news sites and may cause the reporting of half-stories and unsubstantiated stories because of a fear of coming out last. It is up to the new media to utilize the ethics that have served print journalism well for so long.