The Mystery of Mary Rosh

How a new form of journalism investigated a gun research riddle.

(Page 2 of 2)

The news spread quickly, and the second round of distributed investigation began. Bloggers unearthed old posts by "Rosh" and linked to them on their sites. Among the gems: "[Lott] was the best professor that I ever had....Lott finally had to tell us that it was best for us to try and take classes from other professors more to be exposed to other ways of teaching graduate material." Many were troubled by Rosh's apparent attempt to get an online interlocutor, who claimed to have anonymously peer-reviewed one of Lott's papers, to reveal his identity. (Lott later told The Chronicle of Higher Education that he was merely trying to force his opponent to confess that he had lied about being an academic.)

Whatever the final effect of the controversy on Lott's reputation, it demonstrates that the effect of blogs on journalism is more than hype. If Lott is at last conclusively vindicated, perhaps by the emergence of one of his student volunteers, it will probably be the result of the exposure the story received from bloggers. If he is not, he can count on a thousand-eyed Argus keeping a close watch on his future work.

Perhaps more important, the Lott saga proves that distributed journalism works. This matters, because the process depends partly on people's belief that it can work. Stories such as Lott's show that it's worth the time -- that if you're unsure about a fact in a news story, or think a reporter should have asked another question, it's worthwhile to fire up your browser or fire off an e-mail.

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