Jon Stewart is unhappy with CNN for incorrectly reporting yesterday that the feds had arrested someone the Boston Marathon bombing.
In all fairness to CNN, AP reported the same thing. Clearly someone was telling the press something, and it wasn’t just them getting it wrong. It’s possible their sources got it wrong, it’s also possible their sources intentionally got it wrong. Perhaps the feds were trying to smoke someone out – convincing them that they were about to be arrested so that they would leave wherever they were, and possibly make a trail the investigators could find.
The problem with Stewart’s criticism is that if the media doesn’t report what they’re hearing, then they’ll only report what’s officially been told to them – i.e., press releases a la Jeff Gannon. If you have trusted sources who have consistently been correct in the past, then it’s reasonable to trust them. And again, don’t ignore the possibility that the feds were intentionally leaking misinformation.
There’s one more thing to consider. It’s extremely difficult to run a media company in today’s economy. Even a small one, like ours. Advertising revenue died after Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, and it never came back. It’s now a constant competition for pageviews (online) and eyeballs (on TV), so that we can bring in enough advertising dollars to keep ourselves above water.
I know for online media, every day we are forced to find something that will go viral in order to meet our daily quota of pageviews (the amount of pageviews we need in order to sustain the blog financially via our ads). It’s why I stayed up until 2am last night covering the Texas fertilizer plant explosion, after waking up at 7am that same day just in case there was any breaking news on the Boston Marathon bombing. In part, sure, I feel a duty to get the story out there. But now more than ever, I also feel a compulsion to do anything I can to get the necessary traffic to keep the blog alive.
And every day the rat-race for viral stories starts over again. It’s just the nature of the business, now.
People can mock CNN (and AP) for getting it “wrong.” But if CNN doesn’t risk getting it wrong, people will turn the channel and watch the other networks instead. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. That doesn’t mean CNN should be sloppy – and I’ve not seen anything suggesting they were sloppy. But before we jump on the “ha ha, they got it wrong!” bandwagon, I think people need to understand that the pressures that all of us in the media face do not lend themselves to deliberate-ness.