Breaking News, on the Blog

how news of Sarah Palin's hacked email was disseminated

The story of a story: how news of Sarah Palin's hacked email spread on Sep 17, 2008

One of the biggest stories in September was the hacking of Republican Vice-Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin’s private Yahoo email account. But the news outlet that broke the story was not the New York Times or the Washington Post, or any other main stream media for that matter. Instead the first to post on the story were online blogs, among them ArtVoice’s Tech Voice which posted the story at 10:49am on September 17th, followed by Wired News’ Threat Level, at 12:50, and less than 15 minutes later by Gawker at 1:03 pm.

By the time national media outlets picked up the story (and then only on their own blogs), it was much later in the day. ABC News’ Political Punch posted its story at 6:13pm, merely linking back the Gawker post published five hours earlier. In the days of print media with its morning and evening editions, such a time lag would not have mattered. In the world of Web 2.0 and continuously updated posts throughout the day, traditional media have been beaten to the punch.

The Sarah Palin Email story is just one of many each month that are now broken by blogs on a daily basis. Original journalism, it seems, is longer the province of only the main stream media. And it joins an increasing rank of reports that originate on the internet but have an impact outside of media and the blogosphere. On September 13, just four days before the hacking, the New York Times published a five page article on Sarah Palin’s tenure as Governor of Alaska, and raised questions on her use of private email accounts for state business:

Her inner circle discussed the benefit of using private e-mail addresses. An assistant told her it appeared that such e-mail messages sent to a private address on a “personal device” like a BlackBerry “would be confidential and not subject to subpoena.”

Hacking the account was illegal and an invasion of privacy,  but it did “raise a few questions about Palin’s e-mail habits” and “show a certain Rovian or perhaps Cheney-esque partiality for secrecy,” as Slate puts it.

This harks back to early 2007, when the investigative blog, Talking Points Memo, uncovered the story of the Bush administration’s firing of US attorneys around the country. In fact, Talking Points Memo proceeded to win the Polk Award in Journalism, and its editor, Josh Marshall, has been described as

belong[ing] to a new breed of journalists. They use the speed and breadth of the Internet to constantly update the story.

Even blogs that were not created specifically with investigative journalism in mind are shifting their roles. As an October 3 article on Media Bistro reports,

Gawker’s biggest traffic spikes in the last twelve months have been the result of breaking news stories

and indicates that Gawker may be heading towards “a more newsy direction,” away from its origins as a gossip site for the Manhattan media crowd.

Main stream media, on the other hand,  have gone the opposite direction and embraced blogging. At the last count, had more than 60 blogs on various topics. Among them, The Lede posts on the news behind the news, offering breaking stories that will later appear as print articles. Take for example, this Q. & A. with a Somalian pirate involved in the hijacking of the Faina freighter. It appeared on the Lede on September 30, a full day before the full-length article appeared in print on October 1, in the World section of the paper.

The Lede post did not include the in-depth analysis and further reporting that the article focused on, but it didn’t need to. Instead, the analysis and commentary was left to those readers, who joined in the fray with 53 comments. As such, the blog post and print article complement each other, and provide news in a way that would not have been possible a few years ago. Do both the article and the post constitute original journalism? Undoubtedly. The difference was not what they reported, but how they reported the news. Welcome to the new news…


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