Exclusive over editorial process – how a music site shouted jump

29 Jul

I’ve written before about how blogs lack the skill and discipline of more traditional outlets. How there are stricter (or supposedly so) editorial processes in place with more news-orientated or credible sites. There is a reason why these are important because they protect not only the the public but also the publisher.

Today, self-professed “edgy” and “irreverent” music site Tone Deaf reported on a woman being barred entry to a gig last night based on a previous interaction, an interaction which did not apparently generate charges. They didn’t mention her name but they mention several identifying details that make her easy to locate and identify. They then cover in excruciating detail content she had published elsewhere about the interaction. At the end? A perfunctory copy and paste directive to mental health services.

It’s the perfect example of how, in their haste to publish first, the site neither thought through the newsworthiness of their post nor the ramifications of posting what they did. Any attempt at diplomacy or measured reporting was cursory and underscored by a greater need to point at the “creepy” person. That’s what we’ve come to in this age where Tim Berners-Lee declares the Web is for everyone: people turn it into a series of cages at Bedlam for some SEO-friendly-chasing hounds to rattle.

Ideally, articles should be timely, newsworthy and even with some added insight or interpretation. The post at Tone Deaf failed on all counts.

If a site is to attract a credible, reliable audience worthy of their advertising revenue, users will expect actual news relevant to their interest. In the case of this article, the only timely news was that a woman was barred access from a gig and was referred to by the musician during the concert. That was the only timely and relevant piece of information in the article. The rest of the article focused on what occurred in 2010, gleaned from YouTube videos.

Anyone with more than 5 minutes on the Internet will leave a digital trail behind them, some wider than others. Does it stand to reason that such material is considered fair game for publication and quoting? To a degree, yes, but it does not mean that it is acceptable to pull entire articles together based on witnessing one woman’s pain and ill health over 40 minutes of YouTube videos. Let me reiterate that point: a woman who struggles with mental illness and other challenges is being data-mined in the pursuit of cage-rattling and clicks.

During this research, it should have been highly evident to anyone with a modicum of cognitive ability that the person whom they had identified as having mental problems actually had mental problems. Though for some it may be a soft line, there is a point where any writer/journalist needs to consider whether their story is in the public interest and what potential impact will happen upon publishing. Is it in my interest to read this story? No. Nor is it for most others. What is the potential impact for a mentally fragile woman to be the centre of such attention? It could have been serious but ToneDeaf barely paid it due consideration.

In terms of insight added, there was none. A throwaway sentence about safety for musicians, a cursory cut and paste to seek help via Lifeline. Nothing that would give insight to the reader because the only thing that was covered in depth was an event that happened two years ago.

In an age of digital research and publishing, we must enforce standards. This means ensuring the credibility of online publishing is upheld by professional conduct. This means publishing articles that are timely, well-researched (not by snooping in the digital equivalent of someone’s drawers), are in the public interest and properly weigh the balance between public interest, personal impact and insight.

That didn’t happen today and the results could have been catastrophic for the person covered in the article and for the writer who penned the piece.

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