Despite a lapse related to the terrorist attack, online media deserve high marks
This column appeared Sept. 20, 2001, in the Online Journalism Review. Here’s the version on the OJR site.
By J.D. Lasica
Are journalism’s ethical rules of the road different in the online medium? This week, once again, the editor of an online publication received a powerful reminder that the answer is: Not really.
Rising Tide Studios, a small New York media company that publishes the Silicon Alley Daily and Digital Coast Daily e-mail newsletters (60,000 subscribers between them) and tech news sites, published a first-person account last Thursday by someone who visited the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
Oh, just one thing. The author, Robert Galinsky, co-founder of the defunct entertainment site Pseudo.com, outlined in his dispatch how he dressed in a hard hat and workman’s clothes the morning after the terrorist attack and lied to get through nine police checkpoints to reach the rescue operation.
The reaction was swift and furious. “We got 12 or 15 e-mails from people who were clearly upset, asking whether we advocated this kind of behavior,” said editor Jason McCabe Calacanis. “Almost immediately, I knew I’d made a mistake in running it. I thought this was something that would help inform our readers about what was going on. But it did send the wrong message that we may have condoned his actions. You don’t want to publish things that could hamper a rescue effort, even in the smallest, most minute way.”
On Monday, after “intense and considerable internal discussion” among the editorial staff, Calacanis published an Editor’s Note apologizing for running the piece. “The Internet is changing some of the rules, and a lot of the rules haven’t been written yet, but this should have been held back no matter the medium,” he said in a phone interview from New York.
Calacanis, in a bit of rueful reflection, observed that no one would have complained “if we had edited out the sentence about how he got down there.” (True, but then it would have been dishonest in addition to being reprehensible.) And he said the criticism may have been more muted had they run an editor’s note disavowing Galinsky’s actions but saying they decided to publish it because of intense reader interest in the subject.