Soul-Searching at Politico

Politico columnist Ben Smith, seemingly moved by President Obama’s speech last night to reflect on his site’s coverage of the Tucson shooting as it developed, found that coverage lacking. Or rather, he found that the breaking-news reporting on Politico was strong, but the analysis on its blogs was more harmful than informative. Smith writes:

The new media—including this blog—are usually well suited to covering the rolling, incremental, conversational story of politics, and most news, but the last few days weren’t our best.


The new media headed down garden paths and gave oxygen to the sides of a shouting match that turned out to be based on very partial information. It was reasonable to explore the question of the political beliefs of a suspect in the shooting of a member of Congress. But by the time those explorations and course-corrections—which are how the new media works at its best—had lead pretty clearly to mental illness, the debate had already frozen into its dueling accusation and defensiveness that responded to every bit of incremental reporting as a point scored or lost.

Smith is right; it’s worth keeping in mind that the strengths of the new digital media ecosystem when writers get the story right, can also be a real detriment when they get the story wrong. All the more reason for influential opinionators to consider taking a moment to think before reaching for that keyboard.

(h/t Greg Marx)

Update: Smith wrote to me with a clarification: “I hadn’t intended to criticize any blog on Politico other than my own, and I don’t think any of the other bloggers were doing the sort of stream of reporting I was.” He explained that when he wrote “the last few days weren’t our best,” he was referring to himself and other bloggers like him, but not necessarily other writers on Politico.

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Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner