Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Know Thineself

Photo source: China Digital Times

In a meta sense, one important way to look online editorial decisions is the coverage of itself. In the Google/China conflict, this specifically applies to the coverage of electronic media. While condemnation of China is near unanimous amongst online American news sources, the editorial tone each publication takes on the issue symbolizes the editor's and publication's journalistic ethics and style.

Using bottom-up analysis of the the dispute coverage, the "bottom" of the coverage lies within the issue's technicalities, as seen in PCWorld's May 30 article "Google Now Says Technical Glitch Not to Blame in China" by Nancy Gohring.

The article is very technical, with Gohring writing "gs_rfai started appearing in the URLs of Google searches globally as part of a search parameter, a string of characters that sends information about the query to Google so we can return the best result."

Her article lays out a full array of computer facts, leaving the audience to discern China's intent.

The Associated Press took a very different approach in Anita Chang's March 30 article, "Journalists in China say Yahoo accounts hacked." Rather than emphasize the coding issues surrounding the debacle, Chang followed the human angle.

"It was not clear where problems with the Yahoo e-mail accounts originated. All four people affected are professionally focused on China and related issues," Change wrote. "They said they had heard of other colleagues having similar problems, including one journalist who lost his Yahoo account entirely in January."

Chang continues by interviewing six people involved in the Chinese filter, digging deep in the human angle.

Surprisingly, The New York Times exhibited the least comprehensive and most egocentric coverage of the issue in David Barboza's "Access to Google Is Interrupted in China."

The article opens up condemning China, and does little reporting beyond speculation from there.

"The exact cause of the disruption was not fully clear, but it led to speculation that the site was being blocked by the country’s Internet censors," Barboza wrote, the relying on rumors to open the article.

What is more, the article cites no human or code source, as seen with The Associated Press and PCWorld, respectively. Rather, it recycles old coverage, press statements and assumptions. These editorial decisions detract from the article's integrity and a reader's willingness to look to The New York Times for quality international reporting.

Editors may make lazy decisions, assuming that the public is tired of the story. Yet this is a case of never leaving the newsroom. As seen with The Associated Pressand PCWorld, interesting and enlightening angles can be found in the most tired of stories.

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