Do Butterflies Have Stronger Wings?


For those looking for a blow-by-blow deconstruction of Newsweek's peculiar sourcing in the Koran Flusher story, Jay Rosen's your man.

As is my annoying habit, I'd like to pull out one of Rosen's side claims:

Under these conditions, it is imperative that journalists in the United States raise their standards for reliability, because the consequences of being wrong–for themselves, for their profession as a whole, and for others far removed–are graver.

Italics his. I agree with the first part, and who wouldn't, even though I'd also throw in my crude guess that if you had some way to measure reliability, the dominant media (large dailies, newsweeklies, evening newscasts) would be shown to have slightly increased said reliability bit by bit over time, even though their public reputation has taken a battering. And though "the consequences of being wrong" are indeed greater for themselves, largely because it's thankfully so easy for them to get caught and shamed, I'm not convinced that the consequences are greater "for others far removed."

It would seem to me common sense that when you eliminate scarcity in media, the potential impact of individual news items decreases, despite the greater possibility for global distribution. Every day there are tens of thousands of reports on National Security matters alone—including previous articles on Koran-flushing—that quickly sink down the memory hole. It is a frequent complaint of reporters, and of regulationists like Ralph Nader, that investigations and gory eyewitness reporting lead nowhere, in terms of response. Or maybe the average & median impact of a given story has been drastically reduced, but the set-up of a worldwide distribution channel, plus the magic of network effects, has created vastly greater kinetic potential for a few isolated reports to shoot like an electric current through the world's consciousness. Anyway, I'd be curious to hear what the rest of you think.