In my grandfather’s day, if you saw it on the front page of the newspaper, it must be true. My, how times have changed! A bizarre story is gripping my city this week, and nobody knows if it’s true or if it isn’t. The fact that somebody told it to somebody else is news enough!
It’s almost too bizarre to even begin explaining. Our mayor, Rob Ford, is, to put it in the kindest way, a character. His dislike for the Toronto Star, a major local paper, is legendary and well-established. Their dislike of him is as established. But when they announced last week that a Somali drug dealer had approached them and offered to sell them a video of the mayor smoking crack cocaine with them, well … it seemed a little incredulous.
Ford, for his part, has only said that the Star is out to get him. Which may be true, but isn’t exactly a stirring denial of the claim, either. But what keeps jumping out at me is that the Star doesn’t exactly have much to go on either. Back in my own freelance journalist days, in the stone ages of 2003 or so, I’d spend entire mornings at the finance magazine where I interned, playing Tetris for hours while I waited for the west coast people to get to their offices so I could fact-check my stories. It didn’t go up until the whole thing was ready.
Now, in these days of News-by-Twitter, it seems that has fallen by the wayside. Instead of one story—allegation, investigation, response—there are now three separate ones. The rumor goes up first. The response is published separately. And the investigation has been replaced by a journal-esque blow-by-blow from the reporters explaining the whole crazy sequence. The actual verification of the facts, as of four days later, has yet to occur.
No one would deny that the world has most definitely changed since grandpa’s time. And much of that change is for the better. I personally am not even opposed to News-by-Twitter as a principle, as long as people understand that this is what they are getting. But when people look at a source like the Star as higher up on the food chain because of its pedigree—and we’ve all seen those editorials, reprinted on this blog, from news media ‘dinosaurs’ defending their worth in this era of cell phone reporting—then what are we to make of a story like this one? What good old-fashioned investigative reporting has the Star, thus far, actually done here?
Personally, I am not going to fault them for joining the modern era and reporting in this less traditional way. But I do think that, in doing so, they’ve given up the right to post any more complaints about old media being under threat from these new-fangled computer types. Be the old guard if you want to, Star. But then, maintain the standards the old guard maintained.
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(In related news, won’t you consider donating to Gawker’s Rob Ford Crackstarter on Indiegogo? —Ed.)