From the Editor: Social Media's 'Threat' to Publishers
On April 5, I was running around the New York Marriott Marquis during our Publishing Business Conference and Expo—my brain focused on getting speakers to session rooms, talking with exhibitors and attendees, and hoping the event would run smoothly and successfully for all involved.
Little did I know that day that Clare Gillis, a reporter for The Atlantic, was captured by the Libyan government, along with James Foley, another American journalist, and Spanish photographer Manu Brabo. Since then, I have been trying to follow Gillis' story, as little was known of the whereabouts of Foley or Brabo.
The Atlantic, The Harvard Crimson (Gillis is a Harvard graduate) and the Global Post, where Foley is a correspondent, have largely been the primary and, sadly, often the only sources of news on this.
The Crimson also reported, "According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 80 attacks on journalists have been documented since the beginning of the conflict in Libya. These attacks include 49 detentions, 11 assaults, at least three serious injuries, and four fatalities."
Publishing Executive shared several stories of Gillis and Foley's capture with readers on PubExec.com, knowing that if anyone besides the reporters' family and friends would feel the pain of their capture, it would be this industry.
The day Gillis and the others were captured and the day Gillis called home were the times when mainstream media ran headlines about it and claimed "the world watches." And I believe it did, for a little while at least.
But, I guess no news can't exactly be covered, so silence in the media wasn't a matter of neglect, but a matter of nothing newsworthy to report. In the meantime, vigils and other efforts by the reporters' friends and family continued.
As I write this, The Boston Globe and several other news outlets are reporting that the Libyan government will "probably release" Gillis, Foley and Brabo, after 43 days of imprisonment (so far) overseas. I had asked The Atlantic staff if they knew anything more. James Bennet, The Atlantic editor, commented, "We are encouraged by reports from Libya that Clare Morgana Gillis, James Foley and other journalists are about to be released. We have been heartened by the news that they have been treated well and hope that they will be allowed to return home to their loved ones in the next few days."
The whole situation gave me a reality check. I desperately hope that by the time this issue reaches you, they are back on U.S. soil.
With the media, including our own industry, focused on new technology and business models, and competition from social media, I'm afraid some basic truths are getting lost.
I don't travel to war zones or natural-disaster areas, but many in this industry do. They risk their lives to bring news to the world, and often get little recognition for it.
The story about news outlets being bested by a single tweet that broke the news of Osama bin Laden's death sent my brain reeling. As Adweek reported, "The person who will, deservedly, get credit for being the first to confirm the rumors that bin Laden had been killed is Keith Urbahn, the current chief of staff to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He broke the news with a single, simple tweet: 'So I'm told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.'"
Urbahn gets credit for tweeting a few words. He "broke" the "news." But where did everyone go to get the real, full story? To their most trusted newspaper, magazine, or corresponding website, their favorite TV news or radio programs-reported on by journalists who risk their lives, who travel the world and publish in-depth reports while we're sleeping.
Maybe it hit me as strange because as this happened, Gillis, Foley and Brabo still were captive in Libyan prisons, all in the name of bringing us the story on the ground there. Others had been imprisoned, injured and killed.
In my eyes, they—and others like them—deserve the credit for what they do every day. This is why I don't see the massive threat that many believe Twitter and other social media poses to the media. Twitter is like a friend telling you what s/he heard. They may tell you first (and, yes, that's obviously a goal of news outlets—to break a story), so maybe that has changed. But then most people turn to the expert media for the real story. The ones with the facts and analysis. They turn to The Week, the Global Post, The Boston Globe. The ones whose writers travel to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Japan and Libya. To those who really deserve the credit and appreciation, whether they are first to tweet a story or not.
Here's to Gillis, Foley and Brabo's safe return home.