Why does traditional media ignore the work of bloggers and podcasters?

Banned from Twitter

Our official notice telling us we have been banned by ABC57 News

Last week we got in a spat with Northern Indiana news station ABC57 News. We were upset about their publication of incorrect information that they got from a government official pertaining to a member of the Elkhart 4. We called them out on their failure to check the accuracy of that information. We probably would have forgotten about the entire affair had it not been for the inexplicable response from ABC57 News – they banned us from their Twitter feed.

At first we thought it was all very funny. Then we were angry that a media outlet had attacked our right to free speech. Finally we have come to the conclusion that the response of ABC57 News is a symptom of traditional media’s ‘head in the sand’ approach to the new media.  ABC57, a representative of the ‘traditional media’, has no intention of engaging with this blog or accepting that this blog has a legitimate reason to question the accuracy of their reporting.

This is not the first time we have highlighted the failure of the ‘traditional media’ to question the statement of someone in authority.  The two most concerning of these were inaccurate statements by legal analyst Sunny Hostin on the Dr. Phil Show and hypocritical statements by the Attorney General of Indiana.

Yesterday, in a very interesting article on the website The Frisky, Amelia McDonell-Parry examines the controversy around the recently released Netflix documentary Making a Murderer and other true crime documentaries like Serial and Paradise Lost. McDonell-Parry discusses the role of ‘traditional media’ stating,

“Traditional journalism,” if that’s what we’re calling it, takes the authorities’ accounts at face value, and presents a false balance between the two sides. But that information (the authorities) is often misleading, manipulative, inflammatory, prejudicial or, in some cases, straight up inaccurate — and then rarely corrected.

In light of what McDonell-Parry wrote and in response to our spat with ABC57 we wanted to see if our thoughts were correct . . . is traditional media ignoring innovative work being done by new media (bloggers and podcasters) in favor of reporting at ‘face value’ the view of the authorities?

To demonstrate and answer to this question we have decided to leave our traditional topic of the Elkhart 4 and look at a completely different case . . . the case of Adnan Syed.

In October, November and December of 2014 the attention of million of people turned to Serial, a new podcast created by journalist Sarah Koenig. Serial was a twelve part audio journey through the twists and turns of the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee and the trial/conviction of Adnan Syed for that murder.

The ‘traditional media’ praised the innovation of the podcast and the work of Koenig. It was easy to do because Koenig, with her NPR background, is a member of the ‘traditional media’. The innovation in Serial that were celebrated by the mainstream media was the use of the podcast format and the open (and very welcome) discussion of personal bias.

In the final episode (spoiler alert) Koenig decides that she does not know if Adnan Syed murdered Hae Min Lee, but she does not feel enough evidence was presented at trial to justify the guilty verdict (Syed is currently serving life+30 years for the murder).

With the exit of Koenig the podcasting continued. Three lawyers, Rabia Chaudry (a close friend of Adnan’s family), Susan Simpson and Colin Miller began their podcast Undisclosed The State v. Adnan Syed. The podcaster Rabia Chaudry was always were very open about her pro Syed bias. That bias, did not stop the podcast from doing very innovative work. The research of Chaudry, Simpson and Miller has lead to some major developments in the case. These developments have helped to bring about a major court hearing, to be held in early February 2016, where new evidence of Syed’s innocence will be presented. Five of these developments were discussed in Entertainment Weekly  . . . but what about the Baltimore press, did they cover these developments?

We are going to look at four of the developments uncovered by Undisclosed and examine how the local Baltimore press reported on these developments. We have decided to use the online records of The Baltimore Sun, ABC2 News Baltimore and NPR WYPR Baltimore as the representatives of the ‘traditional media’.

Before we begin it is important to note that in 1999 and 2000 the murder of Hae Min Lee was a very local story with very little national/international interest. That changed in 2014 when Serial became the most downloaded podcast ever. The Hae Min Lee/Adnan Syed story is now a major news story nationally and internationally that is reported on continually. So how is that reporting reflected in the local press?

At the start of Undisclosed The State v. Adnan Syed local Baltimore Media did report on the new podcast.  ABC2 Baltimore wrote:

The podcast’s success — or lack thereof — should give us a little insight into whether it was Syed’s case or Koenig’s storytelling that captured the nation.

While the Baltimore Sun wrote:

The first thing that fans of Sarah Koenig‘s radio storytelling have to understand is that their [Undisclosed] podcast is not primarily about narrative or journalism, as Koenig’s was. It’s about what they see from a legal perspective as overlooked “facts” of the case and, to some extent, advocacy.

Even after starting with some negative reviews, Undisclosed has been a strong performing podcast achieving success on the iTunes Chart.  Initially the strong performance was because many people were interested in the case of Adnan Syed. The continued strong performance id due to th. Here is the evidence they uncovered and the local media response to this evidence.

Episode 3 of Undisclosed – Jay’s Day – Revealed possible police misconduct during witness interviews

The main evidence against Adnan Syed was cell phone records (also see episode 8 evidence) and the testimony of Jay Wilds. To date Jay Wilds has presented 7 different version of the events that took place on January 13, 1999 (the day Hae Min Lee went missing and was murdered). In Episode 3 of Undisclosed Susan Simpson plays the audio from Jay’s police interrogation.   Previously only transcripts had been available. The audio reveals that during long pauses strange taps were heard (like someone tapping a table). Those taps are followed by Jay either remembering details, changing details or correcting himself. Through strong investigation it is suggested that the tapping are caused by members of Baltimore PD showing Jay written/graphic evidence to help develop a timeline. So how was this reported on in Baltimore?

Baltimore Sun Did not cover the story
ABC 2 Baltimore Did not cover the story
NPR WYPR Baltimore Did nor cover the story

But the new media (blogs and podcasts) did cover this story [ The Frisky, The Daily Dot, The Truth and Justice Podcast (Formally Serial Dynasty) this podcast has reported on all this new evidence]

Episode 5 of Undisclosed – Autoptē – Revealed the timeline presented by the state at trial does not match the medical evidence

The state at trial insisted that Adnan Syed killed Hae Min Lee by 2:36pm on January 13, 1999. Furthermore the state insisted that Adnan Syed buried Hae’s body by 8:00pm. They used cell phone records to prove this. The Undisclosed team took a close look at the autopsy report and presented the findings and photos to experts. The experts concluded that based on levidity there was no way the body was buried in the timeline presented by the state. So how was the new medical evidence reported on by the press?

Baltimore Sun Did not cover the story
ABC 2 Baltimore Did not cover the story
NPR WYPR Baltimore Did nor cover the story

Baltimore media might not have covered this aspect of the story, but it got attention on Shift, the MSNBC online platform.  Here is the discussion on the new medical evidence.

Episode 10 of Undisclosed – CrimeStoppers – Revealed a tip and a reward for that tip was not disclosed to the defence as is required by Maryland law

The state has an obligation to disclose evidence to the defense before a trial. It was revealed in the disclosed evidence that there was a confidential phone call on February 12, 1999. The Undisclosed team has uncovered that there was a tip reported to Crime Stoppers on February 1, 1999. That tipster received the full reward that was being offered. This meant that their tip helped to bring about the indictment of Adnan Syed. Maryland law says this information must be presented to the defense. Adnan Syed’s defense never had this information disclosed to them. Through investigation the Undisclosed team was able to uncover this new information.   How did the local Baltimore media report on this issue?

Baltimore Sun Did not cover the story
ABC 2 Baltimore Did not cover the story
NPR WYPR Baltimore Did nor cover the story

The online blog The Frisky covered CrimeStoppers tip.

Episode 8 of Undisclosed – Ping – Revealed important information from an AT&T Cover Page that contradicted the way key evidence was presented at trial

One July 27, 2015 one of the biggest and perhaps most important of the discoveries made by Undisclosed was revealed. You can read about the implications of this discovery here. In very general terms one of the most important aspects of the case presented against Adnan Syed was cell phone evidence. It turns out that AT & T send out a cover page with the cell phone data which cautioned that much of the data (incoming calls) was unreliable. This evidence (incoming calls) was used at court to convict Adnan Syed, even though AT & T said it was unreliable. When made aware of this the expert witness, who testified for the state, signed an affidavit saying he was unaware of the AT & T warning and these warnings change the meaning of his testimony. For this evidence all the media reported on this development, but in relation to the legal brief filed by the defense attorney for Adnan Syed (that brief was filed at the end of August 2015 a month after this episode aired.)  The ‘traditional media’ did not report on this a month earlier when it was discussed on the podcast.

Baltimore Sun Included in an article published on August 24 2015 discussing the brief filed in court by the defence lawyers.
ABC 2 Baltimore Included in a segment published on August 25 2015 discussing the brief filed in court by the defence lawyers.
NPR WYPR Baltimore Included in a story published on November 7 2015 discussing the upcoming hearing in the case of Adnan Syed

Three lawyers hosting a podcast uncover evidence of police misconduct, errors in medical reports and prosecutorial misconduct all connected to a case that has captured that attention of millions across America.  You would think that the ‘traditional media; would be all over these accusations!  Instead it is apparent that the local media has mostly ignored this new evidence. Instead online blogs and podcasts have brought these allegations forward for the public to debate.

The only time the established media addresses these new allegations is when the lawyer for Adnan Syed writes about them in legal briefs. This is interesting because Syed’s lawyer is part of justice system establishment. It is almost as if Adnan’s lawyer who is part of the establishment legitimizes the work of the bloggers when that work is included in the defence briefs.  Evidence that has not appeared in the defence briefs seems to have been ignored by the Baltimore media.

Much of the investigative reporting done today is not being done by members of the ‘traditional media’.  This is especially true when it comes to local news.  The investigative aspect of journalism is being taken over by the new media or fringe media.  Ted Koppel said,

People shouldn’t expect the mass media to do investigative stories.  That job belongs to the ‘fringe’ media.

If the ‘traditional media’ does not do the investigations, what do they do?  In our opinion the traditional media reports on the comings and goings of the establishment, often taking the word of members of the establishment at face-value.  In the end the ‘traditional media’ is so used to working within the traditional power struture that they underestimate the strength of the ‘non-traditional’ work done by bloggers and podcasters.

Basically ABC57 can report, without question, the errors of a government email while the Baltimore media can only report on the work of podcasters after that work has been vetted by the defence lawyer who is also a member of the traditional power structure.

The traditional Baltimore media has ignored much of this new evidence uncovered by Undisclosed.  This is evidence that offers a glimpse into the reality of the justice system in that city.  By ignoring this evidence members of the traditional media are ignoring important and relevant viewpoints to the workings of the justice system.  By ignoring such work does the traditional media risk becoming irrelevant?  Only time will tell.