Columbia Journalism Review’s Gal Beckerman has a thorough write-up on how the media’s prediction of John Edwards closing down his campaign turned out to be astronomically wrong yesterday.
The culprit, as it so often is, was a reporter relying on a single source. The secondary culprits were nearly every other major news outlet who cited that report. Elizabeth Edwards even took a small jab at the media with her comment, “You haven’t turned out to be so reliable in the last 24 hours.”
Of course, it was all made possible thanks to the speed of Internet reporting. From CJR’s assessment of the debacle:
The problem, as we see it, is twofold. In spite of claiming to realize the power of the Internet – that’s why, presumably, Politico was able to lure big time political reporters like Smith away from newspapers – the reporters and editors who run the site still don’t realize how far their voice carries. We imagine Smith probably thought that a blog post couldn’t possibly make it farther than his own beltway readership. He should know better, and be just as careful about announcing such news as he would be in any other medium.But the bigger problem has to do with the Internet itself. By giving the impression that everything is immediately correctible, it lowers accountability, making it seem okay to take risks – like basing a story on one source. If a Web site like Politico wants to be taken seriously, it has to live be the same rigorous standards that most news organizations live and die by.