Report first, ask questions later

Today is World Freedom of the Press day, with the World Assn. of Newspapers & News Publishers encouraging news orgs to publish “thoughtful” editorial material.

So here’s something thoughtful: What does “press” mean these days?

As you may have heard, Osama bin Laden is dead. That news seems to have been first disseminated via Twitter.

Keith Urbahn, a former aide to Donald Rumsfeld, tweeted Sunday that he’d heard of the death, and on Monday, various news orgs credited him with being the first to break the story.

Meanwhile, according to AP, Pakistani computer programmer Sohaib Athar, who lives in the sleepy town of Abbottabad, became in his own words “the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it.” He started Tweeting about noisy helicopters, then bombings, then various other pieces of news.

Eight hours and 35 tweets later, the confirmation came: “Osama Bin Laden killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan,” Athar reported. “There goes the neighborhood.”

Murdoch’s Daily reports first, asks questions later

In honor of World Freedom of the Press day, here’s another “thoughtful” question: When is a one-source rumor a “story”?

Last week, Richard Johnson in Rupert Murdoch’s the Daily wrote that Jay Penske, who owns Movieline, HollywoodLife and Deadline Hollywood, “is mulling a bid to buy Variety.” The rumor was based on a tip from “one insider.”

In reporting the rumor, Johnson reached out to Variety Group president Neil Stiles, who retorted, “Nonsense, and you can quote me.” After the item appeared, Penske also denied the assertion to staffers.

If anyone would know, it’s those two. But in the Internet age, a blogger can repeat any statement from “one insider” — even though there are a lot of nutcases in town — as well as folks who like to undermine rivals by starting unsettling rumors.

The Daily piece was slight, but the headline was less carefully handled: “Mag eyes new driver. Auto-racing heir Penske poised to add Variety to his empire”

Uh, but what exactly does “poised” mean? Blogdogger is poised to accept a Pulitzer Prize. That doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen.

Still, we plan to petition the World Assn. of Newspapers to ask for a World Accountability of the Press day.

And we plan to give the exclusive to Urbahn and Athar.

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