September 14th, 2008

Spinewatch: Can Link Journalism Change How the Media Covers the Presidential Election Campaign?

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Jay Rosen of PressThink has started a meme called “spinewatch,” which he’s pursuing on Twitter with the #spinewatch tag and on the Publish2 Spinewatch Newsgroup that he created, where he offers this description:

Spinewatch is a newsgroup and link bank for campaign 2008 stories of a certain narrowly-defined type. Here, we keep track of reporting from the mainstream media where the press can be seen going further than it has traditionally been willing to go in describing untruths, calling out lies, and reporting clearly on statements at odds with well established facts. Even at the risk of saying that one side is worse than the other or one candidate is actually lying. A good spinewatch story is often marked by the absence of qualification, a boldness in categorization (“out of bounds!”) and a refusal to artificially balance the account when the facts themselves point one way.

Here are some examples from the Spinewatch Newsgroup:

The Associated Press: Analysis: McCain’s claims skirt facts, test voters
“Even in a political culture accustomed to truth-stretching, McCain’s skirting of facts has stood out this week. It has infuriated and flustered Obama’s campaign, and campaign pros are watching to see how much voters disregard news reports noting factual holes in the claims.”

McCain Barbs Stirring Outcry as Distortions – NYTimes.com
“Senator John McCain has drawn an avalanche of criticism this week from Democrats, independent groups and even some Republicans for regularly stretching the truth in attacking Senator Barack Obama‚Äôs record and positions.”

McCain Wraps Distortions Around One Truth – washingtonpost.com
Critiques a McCain ad and calls out two distortions.

Scales. Eyes. McCain.
Andrew Sullivan issues a stirring call to “tell the truth as fearlessly and as relentlessly and as continuously as we can until November 4,” despite the McCain campaigns serial lies.

To the Ladies of ‘The View,’ McCain Misrepresents Palin’s Earmark Record
Jake Tapper calls out McCain for saying on The View that Palin never took earmarks as governor (a lie, needless to say).

When covering politics and campaigns, traditional “objective” journalism often reduces to he said/she said, where each side has a say, even if one side has no facts. Journalism is supposed to be about fact gathering, but facts are often a secondary concern when aiming for “fair and balanced” political reporting.

Can Spinewatch lead to more media outlets and journalists clearly and directly assessing the veracity of statements made by the candidates and their campaigns, and using the “L” word to describe a statement that is not true? Can more Americans have a more informed understanding of whether the candidates for President and Vice President of the United States tell the truth?

We can find out, by publishing and distributing links to Spinewatch stories.

If you have a Publish2 account (register here), ping me and I’ll add you to the Spinewatch Newsgroup. Or, you can add “spinewatch” as a tag on your links. Here’s the Spinewatch Newsgroup RSS feed, if you want to follow.

Want to take it a step further? Here’s some code to publish Spinewatch links on your news site:

The widget will pick up the formatting of your site. (You can also customize the code if you’re on Publish2.)

If you don’t want the entire Spinewatch feed, you can add links from the Spinewatch Newsgroup to your own election feed on Publish2.

Of course, there are many other ways to get contribute to the Spinewatch meme. Use the #spinewatch tag on Twitter, or on other social bookmarking services. (Steve Outing has a great post on using Twitter for spinewatch, although he ends with a caution on using open systems, because spammers can “invade channels with unwanted information”)

Whatever you do, the key is to LINK — practice link journalism by linking to reporting that is breaking with tradition by boldly calling a fact, a fact, and a lie, a lie.

The intent of Spinewatch is nonpartisan — the ideal would be to have links to coverage of lies from both campaigns. And if anyone finds it to be partisan, than they should start a similar meme to balance it out… just focus on the facts.

  • If editors and publishers can be made to understand that raising the bar will systematically actually bring them more readers => more money, then Spinewatch can be effective. Us online influencers can drive a lot of readers into these higher quality stories. "With great power comes great responsibility" - and here's a great example of how to put it to goo duse.

  • Its not rocket science, all Obama has to do is show how Mccain is not the Common man, especially if he can connect his historical economic views to the failing housing market. Palin and waffles and lipstick
    is a distraction because McCain has little substance

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