Comments left at the Review online news site tell us that the deaths of two people found inside a Jennings Avenue home this week were drug related. The comments imply that the man and woman died of a drug overdose. Is this true? Maybe.
At this writing, the news sites have not been updated since yesterday, so it could be that the "official" version has been amended to include this information, but as of now, we must go to the reader comments to find out what happened (or what might have happened.)
I'm not sure whether this means that the new-media process is working or not working. On the one hand, it works because the news site allows people to say what the professional news reporters apparently can't. In the past, news outlets acted as gatekeepers that controlled the flow of information. Publishers and reporters resented anyone who attempted to bypass their gatekeeper roles. For example, many hated bloggers with a passion until they discovered that no one cared what they thought.
As people gained more and more access to mass communication authoring tools, news organizations had to admit that they'd lost control of the information flow, so they adopted the methods of those they hated. As it stands now, our local newspapers are combination newspaper-blogs. In the case of the Jennings Avenue deaths, it is the blog aspect of the newspaper that tells us what everyone really wants to know. While the reporters are out chasing the official version of the story, the alleged "truth" already has been published.
The dangers of this hybrid system are obvious. The very purpose of professional journalism is to sort through information and separate fact from rumor, and what random people post on comment boards may or may not be true. You don't have to be in the news business very long before you realize that most people don't know the difference between fact, belief, and a opinion. At the same time, all good journalists know that not all rumors are false--far from it.
In most cases, news reporters are bound to the officially verified version of events presented by the police, and for good reasons. As a reporter, you have to work with cops every day, and it's vitally important that they trust you. As such, reporters can become unwitting agents of the police, reporting only what they're told. Certainly that's the safe way of doing the job, but it comes at a high price. In the old days, reporters had more control of the new cycle on any given story. What got reported today could be followed up tomorrow with new information. Now that news organizations have lost control of the information gates, that luxury no longer exists. Reporters can get beaten on a story by their own readers.
So while the newspaper-blog hybrid does allow for the reporting of both fact and rumor, it's a shaky compromise at best. If reporters must stick to the official version of events while public commenters can publish whatever they want right under the news story, the credibility of the professional reporter is undermined, as is that of the publication.
As the cliche goes, the genie is out of the bottle, and it's not likely that it can be put back in. The way we get news is forever changed. Now the gossip comes with it. By the time the reporter tells us why the people in the Jennings Avenue home died, we'll already know it. At that point, it's no longer news.