In light of the John Edwards scandal, where bloggers and tabloids broke the story of his affair before any newspapers did, it would seem newspapers’ role as the “gate-keeper” has changed. Or at least that’s what Rick Thames, editor at the Charlotte Observer in North Carolina said to Jeffrey Brown of the Online NewsHour.
I think there are two lessons here for mainstream media. And one is, of course, one that I think that we are quite aware of, and that is that we’re no longer the gate-keepers. Sometimes now, when rumor arises, we’re going to need to address it.
And, unfortunately, we may need to address it before we can determine whether it’s true or not because it’s having impact, as it was in this case. It was having widespread impact, in fact, on people’s opinions about whether Edwards could be a vice presidential candidate or whether he should speak at the Democratic National Convention.
I find this quite interesting. Due to all the buyouts and firings of reporters, newspapers no longer have the resources to do as much digging into rumors. This means investigative journalism suffers. Where would the country be without stories such as the Watergate scandal, Clinton’s intern affair or the O.J. Simpson case. My tone is not meant to be ironic in the least. I am serious. Investigative journalism has brought about many, many good stories over the years. Readers’ eyes are opened and there is a check on the balance of power in the government.
Yet that check is faltering, as Thames said. Now it seems bloggers and the National Enquirer are the ones willing to dig. Yet the National Enquirer pays its sources for verified information. I feel that is just ethically wrong for a news organization, which I don’t think the National Enquirer is, to do. If a source is getting paid, how hard will s/he work to make sure the information appears valid? It is just a slippery slope for newspapers to go down.