What’s News

A double bankshot from the world of Journalism Navel Gazing: An Online Journalism Review brief on an item on the Poynter Institute site:

“A new Intelliseek service could be a godsend for Web-savvy editors, Poynter Online reports. The ‘automated trend discovery system’ Blogpulse.com compiles the most popular names, phrases and links in more than 1 million blogs to find out what issues and personalities might be tomorrow’s front-page news. Steve Outing, a senior editor at Poynter, was surprised to see that the top news stories — prisoner abuse and beheadings in Iraq — did not top Blogpulse’s “key phrase” list. Rather, according to Blogpulse, many Weblogs are more concerned with the Mexican air force’s UFO sighting, Ralph Nader’s Reform Party endorsement and Abu Musab Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda leader who allegedly beheaded American Nicholas Berg.”

Wow. Torturegate didn’t make the list. And parenthetically, but without the parens, I absolutely love the use of “allegedly” in that description of the Berg murder. Yes, journalists must pantomime their belief in the presumption of innocence and objective distance in criminal matters (even though they generally report the cops’ or government’s word as gospel). But this is where that exercise turns fatuous. Someone proclaiming himself to be Zarqawi is carrying out the murder on camera; further the reported evidence points to Zarqawi’s personal role; and finally, there’s no legal allegation at issue — there’s a video, a claim, and a bounty on a wanted man’s head. So if you want to be careful, you could say “the al-Qaeda leader suspected of beheading Nick Berg” or, “Zarqawi, the apparent self-proclaimed killer of Nick Berg” or something like that. But please, don’t use “allegedly.”

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