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Monday, January 10, 2005

Will CBS Fallout Change Mainstream Media?

Today, CBS News announced that it fired four senior executives and producers over the now-infamous story about documents supposedly illustrating President Bush's service (or lack thereof) in the National Guard. The documents proved to be forgeries -- a fact caught and publicized by bloggers and others who scrutinize the media. Already, the incident has been an effective career-ender for former CBS anchor Dan Rather.

What kind of impact will this have on the mainstream media? Truth is, the media has changed a lot already, and it didn't just happen overnight or by the sudden appearance of a blog or two. The "mainstream media" is a very different animal from the institution I studied in journalism school back in the mid-'80's, thanks to cable TV, the Internet, talk radio, and simply a general cynicism and distrust of large news institutions. As Terry Heaton writes in his POMO Blog:

It was an angry public that brought all this about. The public has been angry with the [mainstream media] before, but this time they were able to publish their objections for others to see and further complain. This is new in the world of journalism, and it's why this event will shape the trade for years to come. The blogosphere didn't just happen. The energy for it has been building for decades, and the genie is now out of the bottle.

Now that top-level executives have been made personally accountable for their actions, their counterparts in other organizations are surely paying very close attention. This will affect how news is reported, for better or for worse. Better, because any story they release from now on will have to be absoultely airtight, and researched thoroughly. Worse, because some in the mainstream media may feel the need to pander to a vocal minority who will pounce on any story they disagree with. And anyone with an agenda can feel free to discredit a news story, using the CBS incident to argue that the mainstream media no longer has credibility.

Like Terry Heaton says, the genie is indeed out of the bottle. The challenge for the mainstream media will be coming to terms with that genie while producing accurate, credible news stories.

Sources: POMO Blog, CBSNews.com