The story of a Florida preacher threatening to burn copies of the Quran has spread rapidly around the world through the media and the Internet.
Reverend Terry Jones, whose congregation at the Dove World Outreach Center numbers only about 50 people, is now internationally recognized as the man who wants to set fire to copies of Islam’s holy book. The burning is scheduled for Saturday, the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.
Should be covered, but….
Media and Internet coverage of the story has been constant in the United States and abroad. But have the media done a good job of covering the controversy or have they gone beyond what is reasonable or necessary?
“I believe it’s a story that needs to be covered. Does it need to be covered to the extent of which it has? I would say not,” says Kevin Smith, president of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Smith says there’s a fine line between informing the public and over-saturating a news cycle.
“This is one of the cases where we see what I think is an overplay of the story by the media. But no one wants to be the media outlet that doesn’t have the story. And that just contributes to the deluge of information or the coverage of the story.”
Smith says the media are feeling the pressure of the speed and popularity of the Internet. They feel compelled to cover a story that’s big on the web.
“I think that’s absolutely true. I think before that, before even the Internet, the media were susceptible to their competition. If somebody had a story, you did not want to be the one, the only one, who didn’t have the story. And so the competition kept the story alive to some degree,” he says.
The competition has grown and taken new forms.
“Now, you have the Internet. And you have bloggers and…citizen journalists and amateurs, who are out there just providing information. And it just exacerbates the situation. Now you’re not competing against the morning newspaper, the afternoon TV. You’re competing against a multitude of individuals who are disseminating information about this, including people who might be members of that church,” he says.
Has the pressure to cover certain stories and the need to get the news out fast affected journalistic ethics or responsibility?
Smith says, “I personally have turned the TV off with regards to this story because for the last four days I haven’t heard anything new. And what I have been told has been repeated over and over again, which is symptomatic of not having any new information.”
He says the story has played itself out.
“The media has in essence helped this guy gain the attention that he needs. But you don’t want to be the one who stops covering it for fear that something new might come up,” he says.
While he believes the story needed to be reported, he adds, “The media need to be a little more judicious in about how they cover things. You do get to the situation where your coverage contributes to the overall mission or goal of the person that’s seeking the publicity.”
Smith relates the story of a local media host who has decided he will no longer talk about the Quran story because he refuses to give Jones any more publicity.
“That’s a rare approach to take in the media. And he’s decided that he can live without the story and so can his listeners,” he says.
He says another story in which he believes the media went too far in coverage was golfer Tiger Woods and his extramarital affairs.
“We were inundated as a public with all of the details about Tiger Woods and his divorce and how it was affecting his golf game. And for weeks and then months, it seemed to be the only thing that the media could fixate on. And quite honestly, that was overkill,” he says.