The Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal is undoubtedly a big story, which every media outlet is covering, so I suppose it’s not surprising that Google News currently shows 2,580 versions of this story. But when you stop and think about, you have to ask — WHY are there 2,580 versions of this story?

You can hum along with the refrain — in traditional media, with monopoly local print and broadcast distribution channels, each news brand had to run their own version of a major story, because it was the only way for local residents to get the news.

On the web, this makes… no… sense.

There is obviously a huge original reporting opportunity here — NYtimes.com, for example, has been publishing pages and pages of facts over the last 24 hours.

Just as every blogger is entitled to voice an opinion, every mainstream news brand can reasonably publish an opinion piece.

But seriously, how many times can this story be re-reported, rewritten and repackaged? (Spent a few hours sifting through Google news if you want to know the actual answer to this question.)
Pity the poor news consumer who wanted to go beyond the obligatory me-too coverage they find in their favorite news brand.

There is a HUGE opportunity for news brands to redefine what they do for such “media frenzy” stories — to focus on helping news consumers find the BEST coverage of the story.

Imagine the problem at the extreme — 2,580 undifferentiated choices via Google News. Where do you start?

To put it another way, there is a huge opportunity to pioneer original link journalism — an opportunity that, interestingly, the New York Times, with it’s virtuoso original reporting, completely missed in this piece: From Public and Blogosphere, Shock

For example:

Dealbreaker.com, a popular Wall Street gossip site, which seemed to have a field day with the announcement, ran the news under a headline that is too vulgar to print in a family newspaper.

“Oh and the waves of laughter booming across the trading floor as the headline pops up on Bloomberg,” wrote one commenter on the Web site, referring to the Bloomberg news service. “Oh dear. We needed this to lighten up the day.”

Other commenters on Dealbreaker.com echoed the apparent sense of glee on Wall Street, calling the news “amazing,” “the greatest story ever,” and “a dream.” One person complained about Mr. Spitzer’s vague apology and apparent requests for privacy.

Or

One person who posted a note on the Huffingtonpost.com, which is known for its political commentary, said that Mr. Spitzer’s announcement today was especially disappointing because he had served as a model to other prosecutors.

“I feel really sad about this,” the anonymous poster wrote. “I respected Gov. Spitzer and the work he has done to fight greed and shady Wall Street ethics in New York. I live in Connecticut, and it is often said that our attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, is trying to model himself in Spitzer’s image. No longer, I guess.”

Or

On the political Web site Politico.com, the question of what, if any, effects this would have on the presidential race seemed to dominate the discussion.

“Separate and apart from which Democrat you may like to see in the White House, this is not good for Hillary,” one poster on Politico.com wrote. “Eliot’s as close a confidant and superdelegate as she has, a staunch supporter and governor of her home state. Meanwhile Hillary’s been running uphill hard all along to keep this sort of thing away from her.”

Umm… instead of linking to the mains site domains, how about linking to the ACTUAL STORIES?

No seriously, this is a mind blowing failure of online journalism. And you know what happened here — this piece was written for print, and no one could be bothered to do what would best serve web readers, which is link to the actual pieces being quoted.

To serve print readers first and web readers not at all is the tail wagging the dog — but it’s great news for other news brands. If the New York Times drops the ball, then other news sites can pick it up.

(Yoni Greenbaum highlighted some other bad link journalism, and Brian Murley at Innovation in College Media has also written about the problem.)

So here’s the challenge to all of you editors and journalists reading this — if your readers wanted to know what the five or even the three pieces on the Spitzer scandal most worth reading, what would you tell them? Do reporters have the skills to do a better job than the New York Times on the link journalism piece?

Here’s something else to think about. Each news brand could go off in its corner and decide on the five Eliot Spitzer stories most worth reading. But that’s still, in effective, an old media silo. It isn’t leveraging the web as a network.

Here’s the really interesting question — what are the five Eliot Spitzer stories according to EVERY news brand covering it via link journalism? What’s the collective judgment of the hundreds of news brands swarming over this story on who’s got the best coverage?

(Shameless plug: That’s why we build Publish2 — to create the network that can figure this out. If you’re interested in contributing to the collective editorial wisdom on who’s got the best Eliot Spitzer coverage, you can register for Publish2 and make your vote count.)