Short-circuited journalism

Almost alone among the professions, journalism is not rooted in a body of substantive knowledge. The claim is not that journalists lack knowledge or skill, for that is far from true. Nor is the claim an entry into the perennial but ultimately fruitless debate over whether journalism is a craft rather than a profession. The claim instead is a precise one: Journalism is not grounded in a systematic body of substantive knowledge that would protect its practitioners’ autonomy and inform their judgment.

The above passage was penned by Thomas E. Patterson in his recent book, Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism. I was reminded of it today after reading this on GigaOm:

If you were reading some of the major tech-news sites on Wednesday — including the New York Times and Washington Post tech blogs — you might have gotten the impression that a huge proportion of the Chinese internet somehow got redirected to a small house in Wyoming on Tuesday. Why? Because that’s what a lot of the headlines said. The truth is almost as strange, but a Chinese technical glitch plays the starring role in the story, not a small house in Wyoming.

The house that captured everyone’s attention is a tiny brick home on what looks like a well-manicured street in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It showed up in photos on Gizmodo and The Verge, under headlines like “Most of China’s Web Traffic Wound Up at a Tiny Wyoming House Yesterday” and “Chinese Internet Traffic Redirected to Small Wyoming House” (that one was the New York Times tech blog). The Washington Post said that “thousands if not millions of Chinese Internet users were being dumped at the door of a tiny, brick-front house.”

In fact, the small house is just the company’s registered business address, one that is used by thousands of shell companies and other corporations who want to remain relatively anonymous (and the company that registered it has actually moved to a different address in Wyoming). The traffic actually went to wherever Sophidea’s servers are located, which is hard to say with any precision.

Among many other things, the Edward Snowden story helped expose a woeful shortage of technical savvy among our national press corps. As the next generation heads to the blogosphere, here’s hoping these mistakes become fewer and further between.

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About Jay Pinho

Jay is a data journalist and political junkie. He currently writes about domestic politics, foreign affairs, and journalism and continues to make painstakingly slow progress in amateur photography. He would very much like you to check out and if you have the chance.

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