WaPo Fail

There was a little incident in Washington recently. An impromptu snowball fight caused a police officer to take out his gun. This turned into a big deal. It became an even bigger deal when the story was inaccurately covered by the Washington Post; their account was contradicted by other outlets and notably a YouTube video of the event.

The whole story is a fascinating example of the power of social networks, ingenuity, and journalism.

The Washington Post did write the “real” story a few days later, but by then they had been widely criticized for their erroneous coverage and for not having the balls to fess up for their wrongdoing, correcting their record properly. Their piece is pretty good, but it got lost in the shuffle between other snowstorm-related stories (especially in the print edition) and the cacophony of criticism, most notably from their main competitor, the Washington City Paper:

Yet the reason why the Post screwed this up is that they all have linkophobia. If you link to an outlet—such as, God forbid, the Washington City Paper — you’ve lost. You got scooped and all your colleagues are going to look down on you. Linking is a huge sign of weakness—you just can’t do it. Far better to, like, call a top police official, buy his version of events, and just place it in a post, regardless of the contradicting evidence that’s already posted elsewhere.

Take a close look at that 10:20 update on the maybe-gun-pulling cop: “The plainclothes D.C. police detective may have unholstered his pistol during the confrontation with participants in the huge snowball fight, based on video and photos posted on the Internet.”

Bold and italics are mine. They’re mine because this is the most cowardly, selfish, arrogant news conduct out there today. What the fuck is “video and photos posted on the Internet”? How does that help readers? It’s as if I can go to www.internet.com, and there, on the first screen, will be the video and photos of the snowball fight and the maybe-gun-wielding cop. “Posted on the Internet” would be acceptable if this were 1997.

The reporters used this hazy phrasing because they were too chicken-shit to do something that we all have learned to do over the past, say, decade or more. And that’s to link to competitors and acknowledge their contributions to stories.

The tone is harsh, but it’s a blog, much like Gawker serves to rip apart the New York Times. The truth is, Erik Wemple is right. How can you ignore the rest of the world? I assumed that it was common practice now to link to other outlets and acknowledge the competition when necessary in covering stories. The idea, as the Times has written, is that you want to be as accurate as possible, and if that means getting scooped, then so be it. You want to have all the facts, and the reporting should be stronger and as fleshed out as possible. By not acknowledging other outlets, you make yourself look stupid at best, lose credibility at worst, as seen here.

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