They report, they don’t always decide

I’m becoming increasingly fascinated by the friction points between weblogs and traditional journalism. This commentary by the NPR Ombudsman points to a recent episode:

NPR’s Vicky O’Hara reported on a Defense Department document, which exonerated U.S. military personnel [in the shooting death in Iraq of Nicola Calipari, an Italian intelligence agent]. The document was highly edited (or “redacted” in Pentagon parlance), with about 20 percent of the original information removed.

Over the past weekend, NPR placed the document on its Web site.

But some NPR listeners and cyber-savvy bloggers (people who run personal Web sites on the Internet) soon discovered if they downloaded the document from npr.org and translated it into another format, the edited portions could be restored.

The unexpurgated document was then posted on a number of Web sites. It included details of U.S. Army policies and procedures in hostage cases, as well as the names of the military personnel involved in the killing of the Italian agent.

NPR removed the document from its Web site. But the information, available from many media sources, had already been disseminated around the Internet.

Two Issues

First, it is essential to report on government documents. But in this case, publishing the unedited report (albeit unintentionally) could have — and could yet — threaten peoples’ lives. There are times when editors have to make a difficult choice between the public’s right to know and the risk of endangering lives. But this was not one of those instances. NPR was right to remove the documents from its Web site once it became clear that the full version could be accessed.

Second, the blogosphere has proven once again to be an amoral place with few rules. The consequences for misbehavior are still vague. The possibility of civic responsibility remains remote. It is a place where the philosophy of “who posts first, wins” predominates. [My emphasis]

The slam on ‘amorality’ aside, the commentary actually addresses the challenges to conventional journalism (and its convergence with citizen journalism forms, if not practice) with a fairly realistic eye.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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