When the reporter called his editor and described this scenario, he was told bluntly to return to the office. The editor refused to cover the stunt in the paper. Back then, this preemptive block had an impact, and news coverage of the protest was instantly watered down.
It is interesting to consider the implied journalistic ethical question: If a news event is contrived, should the media cover it? But guess what? In the age of social media and citizen journalism, for many events, especially on a local stage, this question really doesn't matter. The community takes care of it -- for better or for worse.
Think about the Town Hall Meetings on the Obama administration's proposals for healthcare policy reform, now taking place nationwide. Amid suspicions that the protests raging coast to coast at these meetings are orchestrated by conservative interest groups, event organizers are well aware that every meeting is a You Tube campaign busting at the seams, ready to rip. Whether sanctioned news organizations cover the episodes or not, no matter the level of truth to the staging -- the story can and will propagate within social media.
This reality can be leveraged with fear as its currency. Whether we believe the level of cahoots and bullying or not -- the power shift of those making coverage happen is fascinating. An official position on whether news organizations should cover these events is almost moot. Airtime will happen at the hand of citizens.
My mind goes to other illustrations of these shifting tides:
Some of these trends are important and liberating. Some of them are disturbing and kind of sad. But one thing is certain: The gateway to coverage is no longer the exclusive watch of sanctioned news organizations. While philosophic statements can be made on the validity of a news event by seeing whether or not a news organization opts to cover it -- increasingly, such stand-offs are only symbolic. If the social sphere wants something covered, it will be covered.
This phenomenon says nothing of quality, accuracy and value standards. We can debate whether citizen journalism coverage is more or less potent than that of the big dogs -- but there's no doubt that coverage itself has been totally redefined in this age of social media.