A Story Seven Years Too Late?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010
I've come here with gripes about the Washington Post's coverage of the internet before, and before I do it again, I just want to say that I absolutely LOVE the articles written by the Post's main "strange stuff on the Internet" beat writer, Monica Hesse. Her writing is engaging, funny, and --most importantly here--relevant.

But Hesse didn't write today's A1 article, and the reporter who did was clearly doing a content-strapped editor a favor.

Here's the headline and lede:

4chan users seize Internet's power for mass disruptions

One morning in June, Google's list of the top global searches began to fill up with random words: "fried chicken," "comic book stores," "gyms." Before anyone could stop it, a racial slur jumped to the No. 1 spot.

And here's graf number five (emphasis mine):

Created seven years ago by a 15-year-old, 4chan is a vast web of anonymous, uncensored message boards. No one's in charge, but the site's users have managed to pull off some of the highest-profile collective actions in the history of the Internet.

As far as I can tell, this is a story about a phenomenon that is seven years old, with a news hook that is two months old.

To make matters worse, Hesse wrote a profile about 4chan and its founder in February 2009 for the same newspaper. Now, there wasn't really a hard news hook then either, but she had a couple of things going for her: she was covering a convention of people who start memes (so at least there was that hook); her writing is light and informative (there's more information in that story than in today's) ;and the story ran in the Style section, which is by definition a place for quirky features.

Today's story, which as far as I can tell adds nothing to the story the Post ran over a year ago, adds nothing new. It's really just a discussion of 4chan gaming Google search trends, which it did months ago.

I get that a lot of Post readers don't know what 4chan is -- I was hanging out with a bunch of 20 somethings the other night and a couple of people in this Internet-savvy bunch didn't know--but running this story on A1, just makes the Post look like a giant luddite.

So why did the story run A1? I have no idea.

But this is the best part. Had the editors and the San Francisco-based technology reporter been a little more in tune with the pulse of the internet, they would have found a news hook.

At about 9 p.m. yesterday, The Smoking Gun, posted a transcript of the 4chan's founder's testimony in the trial of the guy who hacked into Sarah Palin's e-mail during the presidential election. The trial concluded at the end of April, but the testimony had never been seen before.

The Post doesn't mention the transcript at all.

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Written Pyramids is a blog written by a journalist living and working in Washington D.C.

I have left my real name off of the blog so as not to imply that the blog is somehow linked with the journalism I get paid to do. (Still, I never write about my beat on this blog, and rarely express opinions about the day's news regardless of its relationship to my beat).

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