The Venom Of The Crowd
Predictably, readers did not shrug this off, and the story's comments section filled with sentiments of self-righteous rage that were shockingly vulgar given the overall context. It didn't help that they had gotten wind of an email from someone at TONY calling it a "semantic issue," even as Richardson was being flown to a New York hospital.
Ironically, the indignant bloggers, so worked up by the reporter's blunder, rushed to publish, again and again cited reports (from TMZ and People.com) that turned out to be less accurate than TONY's story. The comments section became a place where people shared and traded the latest information on the story as it developed -- and much of what was shared was wrong. Of course, these people are not journalists, just people who appointed themselves as the defenders of integrity. What standard can such a lynch mob be held to?
The hundreds of vile and reactionary comments show the limits of unmediated discourse that's the way of Web 2.0. It lowers debate, any debate, to the lowest common denominator. The mob mentality on the TONY story fell to the point where posters wished harm on TONY's editors.
The Chicago Tribune has had to deal with "Dewey Defeats Truman" for decades, but there's no record of anyone ever bringing the editor's family into it. The overreaction could be, in part, because tracks are so easy to cover on the Web; bloggers might want to make sure the writer doesn't get away with something.
But the vitriol spewed says more about the state of people commenting than it does of journalism. It's difficult to grasp that the people leaving comments were so personally affected by an error in the report of an actress who they did not know personally, and whose work was never strongly supported by audiences.
Comments have little or no sense of scale -- attacks can get as violently aggressive and personal on stories about comic-book characters or hamburgers as they got on the Richardson article. The so-called wisdom of the crowd is morphing into the venom of the crowd. The urge to correct and excoriate the reporter might actually be stronger than the actual indignation people feel.