Jay Rosen, Micah Sifry apologize to Bob Woodward

techPresident | Jay Rosen | GigaOm | Reason

“The truth of what goes on is not on the Internet,” Bob Woodward said recently. He was telling a story about how a Yale journalism class put too much faith in the Web’s free-information DNA. He asked them how they’d report out Watergate today. As Dan Zak reported:

I came as close as I ever have to having an aneurysm, because the students wrote that, ‘Oh, you would just use the Internet and you’d go to “Nixon’s secret fund” and it would be there.’ ”

Micah Sifry thought there was no way the story was true, and while reporting out his suspicions, accidentally published his draft. “I have egg on my face,” Sifry wrote. In the draft, he included NYU professor Jay Rosen’s speculation, which he published on his Facebook page as well, that Woodward’s recollections sounded “made-up or very, very distorted from something one of them wrote.”

Sifry talked to Steven Brill, who taught the class at which Woodward spoke. “Woodward’s characterizations of their papers is totally accurate,” Brill told Sifry, who published his finished account Tuesday. “It blows our minds every year.”

Woodward told Sifry Rosen “ought to be ashamed and retire. That he would say that about somebody without checking. Someone who teaches students to think and weigh evidence, just at random says this? … This only increases my distress about the Internet, and this rush to say anything.”

Rosen, as per Internet tradition, wrote a piece flagellating himself. “There is no defense,” he wrote. “I apologize to Mr. Woodward. I’m sorry I wrote that, Bob. I was wrong. Full stop.”

Perhaps doomed to be lost among the mea culpas is some of the other criticism of Woodward’s views that arose. Woodward’s outlook is “romantic” and “serves the purposes of journalists who see themselves as a special breed, with special powers that normal mortals don’t possess,” Mathew Ingram wrote on Friday, “and it serves the purposes of newspapers and other traditional media entities, who would like to be the sole source of all value in the media ecosystem.”

Matt Welch wasn’t specifically reacting to Woodward, but he echoed Ingram when he wrote Monday that the “superpower-focused view” of media history obscures the real tale, that of its market-driven evolution. “The most important fact of our modern media world, the engine of such unprecedented creativity and anxiety-inducing destruction, is that the customer is no longer captive. People create their own media, for the sheer bloody hell of it, and no longer adhere permanently to one of a handful of legacy brands.”

It’s worth aggregating back to February here, because Jack Shafer, who also writes for the Internet, wrote a column about how Mark Felt, a.k.a. Deep Throat, may have played Woodward like a violin.

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  • robelroy


  • hxr763099605

    i think so

  • http://twitter.com/geostanley George Stanley

    How many of the folks who rushed to judge Bob Woodward and took what he said out of context actually watched the panel discussion?  Here is a link: http://cs.pn/I6ZlB7  You’ll see that Carl Bernstein directly answers the charge that Felt played the reporters: First, they went to Felt, he didn’t come to them. Second, Felt confirmed things they had learned from other sources but offered little on his own. Another interesting tidbit: Deepthroat never said “Follow the money,” although his general message helped them figure out that was the key, which is what investigative reporters have done ever since, as Jeff Leen points out. But my favorite part of the whole thing is when the reporters explained to Jason Robards what an editor actually does. Ben Bradlee liked that part, too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504633504 Dan Mitchell

    I think we’d all be a lot better off forging ahead into the future of media without the help of some of these future-of-media theorists, who seem to be more interested in point-scoring (or score-settling?) than in actually helping anyone understand anything. They clearly don’t understand it themselves. Their work is devoted not to illumination or explication, but to defending their own pet theories and beliefs, and to pursuing their own ideological agendas.  They *want* “citizen journalism” to be a big, sweeping force, and so they’re always looking for evidence that it is. And yet we’re nearly two decades in, and still waiting for all those private citizens to start working 8-14 hours a day to bring us blanket coverage of statehouses, city halls, cops and courts, and local schools. Commentary, they’ve got covered, I’ll give them that. Lots and lotsa commentary. Meanwhile, serious quality journalism — certainly at the local and regional levels — is rapidly deteriorating.

    It would be far more helpful if people in these positions spent more energy looking for economic models that will sustain professional journalism in the years ahead, and less energy looking for proof that “old media” is inherently bad. But for now, it appears that we’re stuck with the Cult of the New. And a mindless cult it is.

  • Anonymous

     It’s also a pretty remarkable misrepresentation of what Shafer actually says.

  • http://twitter.com/StevenBrill Steven Brill

    Yeah, Bob Woodward’s a real “romantic.” He believes that good, honest reporting involves real work. Real shoe leather. The willingness to work harder than anyone else. To interview someone for two hours in person, rather than exchange an email or scrape the person’s quote from another story. That’s the message he has brought to our class for one session each year over the last three. And everyone appreciated it, even if for many it was, indeed, a wake up call. 

    Steve Brill

  • Anonymous

    1) aren’t experienced journalists supposed to NOT make these reporting/quoting mistakes and

     2) aren’t journalism professors today supposed to drill it in the effing brains of their students the glaring problems with relying on the internet for almost ANYTHING?

  • http://twitter.com/barryhollander Barry Hollander

    After 20 years of teaching journalism to college students, nothing about Woodward’s observation about the student papers surprised me.  It’s an understandable misconception by students that everything must be on the Internet.  They’ve grown up swimming in an online pool, so its hardly surprising they might slip into thinking that’s the only water in the world.  If probed, I’m sure the students quickly realized how untrue that really is.

  • George Hesselberg

    Gee  Mr. Beaujon, and what exactly does that last cut have to do with the story, if nothing  more than a cheap ending shot to put that nasty old Mr. Woodward in his place?