Where Did You Read That?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Pulitzer Prize was given out this week, and a rather unlikely source was in competition for the prestigious prize, albeit, for only a brief moment. The National Enquirer, long renowned for it's coverage of scandalous affairs and over-the-top breaking news articles, entered into the competition the article that covered John Edwards alleged affair with a political campaign worker in 2007. The article was second story the paper had run regarding the scandal, but the story was largely ignored by many outlets. Though many of the facts reported by the Enquirer were easily identifiable, if one were to search hard enough, the story was considered just another one of the magazines supermarket headlines published in an attempt to earn another $3.49 from consumers.

But in 2008, Edwards confessed to the affair, and subsequently confirmed the existence of a child with his mistress. When the story broke, news outlets from CNN to Fox News, and of course, the Enquirer, were covering the details. Why the headlines from the Enquirer didn't read "Hey! We Said It First!" I'm not sure; but the editor thought enough of the story's value to submit the article to Pulitzer for the competition. Several other news sources also gave the Enquirer some credit for getting it right, but others wrote the tabloid off, calling the submission a pipe dream for a checkout tabloid.

We've been discussing credible sources in BNR, and we've all heard the speech at Simpson College: Do Not Use Wikipedia As A Source. Though they didn't name the sources the information regarding Edwards was obtained from, The Enquirer did all their homework. They investigated and reported the facts, and the information in their article was easily confirmed if we would have given it a second glance. They deserved recognition for this important story, one which had important political repercussions, regardless of the source it came from. It seems that we have forgot the humble beginnings of Journalism, which started off with sensationalist stories that ran in the penny press. The public loves a scandal, and the early news papers gave it to them. This tradition, however small, has continued with stories published in the Enquirer and other such tabloids.

Barry Levine, the executive editor of the Enquirer, stated recently to Gawker.com that if the story had first been published in the NY Times or the Post that there would have been no question about a legitimate nomination for a Pulitzer. This may be true, but with that observation, I believe he points out a very important fact: the Enquirer has shot itself in the foot (or, excuse me, footnote) for some of the stories they've published, and much like the boy who cries wolf, it's hard to take another one of their headlines seriously. Here are a few examples of their current headlines on their Web site and running in the magazine's current issue

"Bam Nukes Palin!" <--"Bam" being a reference for President Obama. "Sex Crazed Taylor Swift"
Seagal Sex Slave Charges

Another thing that discredits the Enquirer from being a source people turn to for credible news is the fact that right on their website, they have the "Got News?" button, soliciting anyone with any wild tale to come forward for "big bucks".
It's for reasons like this that the majority of mainstream media has acknowledged that the Enquirer took a big step toward good journalism with it's coverage, but it's still got a long way to go.

Scientific philosopher, Robert Anton Wilson, was once quoted as saying "Of course I'm crazy, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong.” Indeed, many of the stories that grace the pages of the National Enquirer sound crazy, but every once in a while, the reality of the story makes the craziness appear sane.


Michelle Pohlad April 13, 2010 at 7:14 PM  

Great post, Staci. My grandma used to swear by The National Enquirer, as it was called then. She read it faithfully each week. We all teased her about it, but she took it in stride as it was her entertainment. I remember when Johnny Carson got mad at The National Enquirer and called them liars on the air because they kept printing stories about his marital troubles and that he was getting divorced. A few months later, he did get divorced. Grandma made sure we all knew that The Enquirer had it right.

Leslie Hanson April 13, 2010 at 9:29 PM  

The National Enquirer has to understand that just because one or two articles a year turn out to be new worthing stories, the vast majority of their content is for entertainment. It is like buying a Ford Focus year after year, then one year changing it up and purchasing a Lexus. But the following year you're back driving the Focus. People know you drive the Focus, they don't remember or care that you drove a Lexus at one point.
If they want to be considered a valued and trust worthing new source they need to change their brand.

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