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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Will Rupert Murdoch Be Vindicated in 2015?

2014 was the Year of the Hacker.

From Jian Ghomshi to Bill Cosby to Ray Rice to Rob Ford, to North Korea, Sony and the UVa Rape story, digital media did much to undo what's left of the dignity of legacy media organizations.

Mainstream media organizations did their best to stay in the game. But the biggest stories often came from digital media organizations that live for gossip - TMZ and Gawker led the pack again and again.

On Georgia Public Radio, I was linked with Eric Bollert from Media Matters and Katie Culver from the University of Wisconsin on a show hosted by Celeste Headlee called "On Second Thought." We discussed whether digital media is the villain or the saviour of journalism.

Clearly, it's both.

When mainstream media republish and rebroadcast leaked emails about Sony and the nasty comments made about celebrities in Hollywood and Washington, DC, mainstream media have become enablers of bad behaviour, by doing the hackers' dirty work for them. But this ethical lapse will likely soon come back to bite.

Now it's becoming increasingly clear that the leaks and the hacks were not the work of some cyber-hip North Koreans, but more likely an inside job from disgruntled (and soon to be former) employees at Sony.

As Margaret Sullivan, public editor of the New York Times noted, mainstream media organizations, including her own, need to go for higher standards of newsworthiness. This is not, she noted, the Pentagon Papers.

It's worth recalling that only a few years ago, the media were excoriating Rupert Murdoch for the practices of hacking into private emails that his journalists in the London tabloids engaged in.

Today, as more of these activities become less shocking, I expect we will see more of this in 2015 as news organizations feel the pressure to compete with the blogosphere with the same standards and practices.

A benefit to getting rid of all these older, analog workers is that media organizations hire younger, hipper, cheaper and more digitally literate journalists.

But in the rush to compete, legacy media will feel the pressure to hack into the porous digital membrane. I am told that young journalists are already being directed to do this in a few once stodgy news organizations.

We will look back at the misdeeds of the Murdoch empire with nostalgia for a simpler time.

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