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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why Are Tech Journos Suddenly Interested in News Corp. Scandal?

Posted By on Tue, Jul 19, 2011 at 9:45 AM

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When I was a staff editor at the tech-news site CNET News.com in the late '90s, one of the top editors there used to insist that we "localize" big news events by writing about how they were being covered and discussed on the Internet. So, for example, the death of Princess Di and the impeachment of President Bill Clinton suddenly became "technology stories" because news about them was transmitted via the Internet. We had to run headlines like "Internet reacts to Clinton Impeachment." That happened a lot, and it was really dumb.

A similar thing is happening with the News Corp. scandal. As I write this sentence, my many sources of news (RSS feeds, blogs, several social media accounts) are being overwhelmed --  and I don't use that word lightly -- by squibs of information from the hearings in the British Parliament where Rupert Murdoch and his son James are testifying about the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

It's insane.

But I understand it to a degree. The scandal touches on all kinds of things -- business, politics, and media -- which provides excuses for covering it no matter who you are. It's both a serious news story and a scrumptious chunk of lowbrow gossip. It's hard to resist. But more people should be resisting it.

Don't get me wrong. I cover media and technology (among other things), and I'm more interested in News Corp. and Murdoch than most people are. I've been following Rupert Murdoch since he took over my beloved Chicago Sun-Times in 1984 and tried to turn it into a New York Post-style sleaze sheet (Chicagoans never did go for it). Over the years, I've read several books and countless articles on Murdoch and his company. And I've been following the current scandal pretty closely. Given that it could potentially bring News Corp. down (highly unlikely, but possible), or end the careers of top executives, possibly including even Murdoch himself, it can't be denied that this is a huge story.

But let's get a grip. Must every detail of the parliamentary hearings be broadcasted in real time by hundreds of people, basically hijacking the news. (Actual tweet: "Rupert Murdoch: 'country benefits from competitive press.'") I'll give media reporters a pass, I suppose (and yet, even there, what's the point?). But why are general business columnists and bloggers, technology journalists, and U.S. political writers spending their mornings hijacking my tech-news Twitter feed?

Some of my favorite writers are doing this -- Felix Salmon, who covers finance. Larry Magid, who covers geeky tech stuff, and even Jim Fallows, who writes about a wide variety of subjects including China, Microsoft, and the Obama Administration. The technology site AllThingsD (run by Murdoch's Wall Street Journal) is live-blogging the hearings, as if they were on a par with John Dean revealing the crimes committed by the Nixon Administration.

Blogger Kara Swisher is even calling the scandal (ugh) "PhoneGate."

To some degree, I suppose, people are simply doing this because they can. Twitter, for example, is still a new mode of dissemination, and much of this is simply people playing around with it to see how it should be used. I would guess that in five years, if Twitter or something like it still exists, there will be relatively little "live-tweeting" of relatively mundane events.

Still. All that's happening here is that a couple of execs are lying and covering their asses. It's news, but it's not earth-shattering news. Certainly, having tech reporters whose usual beats are Cisco and Google cover it is more than a bit of a stretch. But clearly, "the Internet" is "reacting" to it, so.

(Addendum: As I was getting ready to post this, Murdoch was hit in the face with a pie during the hearing. OK, that's worth a tweet or two.)

Dan Mitchell has written for Fortune, The New York Times, Slate, Wired, National Public Radio, The Chicago Tribune, and many others.


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Dan Mitchell

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