Case Study 2

31 Jan

Jimmy’s (Virtual) World

“Jimmy’s World” is one of those stories that shows how much more skeptical we’ve become as a society. Of course, at the same time it shows that sometimes we’re not skeptical enough.

My questions from my first read-through:

  1. How did nobody notice Jimmy’s withdrawal symptoms at school?
  2. Why aren’t there specific statistics about heroin use and deaths in the DC area?
  3. Where is a reaction from someone in law enforcement about an 8-year-old on heroin?
  4. Since when do 8-year-olds talk like that?
  5. What the heck is a “force beam”?

The Nieman Reports article  makes a good point related to my questions 1-4. (I included question 5 because I refuse to believe that nobody at a major newspaper knew what a lightsaber was in 1980.) That point is that the “Jimmy’s World” fiasco was at least indirectly related to the Post’s own Watergate coverage from some years before. Cooke’s story represents the apex of a relaxation in regulations regarding anonymous sources, but that wasn’t the only place where the editing staff dropped the ball. Somebody needed to realize that the facts and stats Cooke was listing could’ve come from anywhere, and that person should have pressed her to make a more active link between them and Jimmy. The editors clearly let themselves be blinded by the story; the rational step would be to take a step back and realize that Cooke’s sources were probably not shopping Jimmy’s story around to every paper and TV station in town. The news value wouldn’t have been hurt if the story had been withheld for a day or two.

Further, as I alluded to in my comment on Google+ this week, the story was missing a reaction from someone in Jimmy’s life who might’ve actually cared. If Cooke had told me she was being allowed into a drug house to watch an 8-year-old get high, I would naturally assume that she’d be capable of following the boy out of the house to get quotes from the people he interacted with.

Question 3 is the one that nags at me the most. I can’t understand how nobody would go to the police or the local child protection agency with Jimmy’s situation. It’s obvious from the story that Cooke had gotten all of the information she needed from the family; why couldn’t anyone just say “that’s enough” and press Cooke for the sources sooner?

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