Joel Achenbach has a column at the Washington Post about the media coverage of that ridiculous claim that the Shroud of Turin is real because a massive earthquake (that never happened) released neutron radiation when Jesus died. His criticisms are spot on.
Good journalism has a subtle feature of reticence. We don’t publish everything we hear. We filter. We curate. The goal of the traditional journalist is to create a reputation for accuracy, fairness, relevance and timeliness, and this requires the willingness to not publish things that are unlikely to be true.
The Shroud of Turin story brings up all the usual issues about click-bait journalism and our current struggle for survival in a highly disrupted news industry. Here’s a basic rule I’d suggest:
The clicks don’t count if the story is wrong…
There’s nothing at stake here except the survival of credible journalism. For those who are trying to figure out a business model for journalism — and I desperately want these folks to be successful — let me suggest that the ultimate killer app is quality. Quality comes in many forms. In the news business, being fast — ideally first — is a form of quality. Packaging the material in a beautiful way visually is another virtue. But the ultimate virtue in this business is getting it right.
But you wouldn’t believe what happens next!
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