I've been perusing the usual news sites last night and this morning, along with news sites I don't normally visit, thanks to the furious barrage of links and comments and speculation on my friends' facebook pages.
I've discovered that Fox News was reporting that Usama bin Landen [sic] was confrimed [sic] dead. Half an hour later, someone thought to become a professional and the two misspellings were corrected.
I've seen several websites (including wikipedia) announce confidently that Osama has been dead for a week; most of those sites now report that he was killed on May 1, 2011.
Some sites are currently reporting that Osama has been buried at sea, citing Islamic tradition and a general disinclination among the world's leaders to pollute their soil with his remains. Other sites are reporting that the US is maintaining its custody of his body in order to ensure acceptance of its claim to have killed him. I'm sure when an official statement is made as to the disposition of Osama's body, everyone will revise his website accordingly.
Some of my friends, especially those disinclined to trust anything with a liberal provenance, are already generating conspiracy theories to account for the discrepancies between Obama's official announcement and the maelstrom of unsubstantiated "facts" that overtook cybernews outlets while we were all waiting for that announcement.
Peace, be still, my friends.
There is no need for such speculation.
The explanation is far simpler and far more troubling.
The intentional impermanence of cyberspace combined with the demand for incessantly instantaneous news has created an ethos of irresponsibility in online reporting. Getting it out trumps getting it right.
In print media, the error abides; it gazes up at one, accusingly, preserved in library archives (what is the new microfiche?) for posterity. The penance only perpetuates the failure: the necessary published retraction ensures that there are two artifacts instead of one. The damage to the reporter's and the paper's reputation was tangible.
There is no failure in online reporting. There is no retraction, no mea culpa. There is only perpetual revision. Reputation need not matter.
And, of course, affiliation counts for more than accuracy these days anyway, doesn't it? One's political leanings (whether implied or avowed) are far more important for developing a loyal readership than one's accumulated record.
And if there is no more accumulated record? So much the better.