Reader Isaac Cheifetz points out that I’ve been quoted for the first time (and presumably the last) in the current issue of The Nation. The article, by Rebecca MacKinnon, is on the conference at Harvard’s Kennedy School that I attended in January. Rebecca quotes an exchange between Jeff Jarvis and me; the point I make is one that we have made over and over in connection with the 60 Minutes/Texas Air National Guard story. It’s worth repeating, I think, for those who haven’t already heard it:
Jeff Jarvis [to John Hinderaker]: You were at the center of Rathergate, [telling Dan Rather and CBS,] “Hello, Dan. Hello, this doesn’t look right.” You helped spread that. Is that the kind of skepticism that is going to help journalism? Do some people say that hurts journalism? What’s your view on your relationship to journalism in that story?
John Hinderaker: Well, it’d better help journalism. I mean, if we don’t have a lot of journalists who learned a lesson from that episode, then I think the industry really is in trouble. The main thing we say about that incident is that it shows the power of the medium. And the thing that we emphasize is that there were a number of different issues that were raised with respect to the authenticity of those documents, but none of them were areas in which any of us were experts.
All of the information came from our readers, and our role was to assemble it, review it, select what seemed to be the most interesting, point out conflicts where there were conflicts and publish it to an audience that within a matter of hours was numbering in the millions.
That goes back to the point about our readers knowing a lot more than we do. The world is full of smart people, and what the Internet gives us is the opportunity to pull together thousands of little bits of information that those people have in a widely scattered way. Now, if I were a professional journalist who hadn’t already figured that out, I would look at that incident and say, “Wow, there is power there that we in my industry need to learn how to mobilize.”
We know that many journalists read our site, and I trust that this lesson has not been lost on them.