Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Organized protest"? Not quite, NOLA.com.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 21, 2008 at 4:18 AM

This image is currently front-paged at nola.com. It shouldn't be:

click to enlarge Protest

It links to a posting by one of my favorite nola.com bloggers, Big Red Cotton, who writes something a bit different than that headline suggests:

New Orleans residents are organizing a 'welcoming committee' to arrive at the Ritz Carlton Friday evening, replete with Saints-style paper bags on heads, bullhorns and protest signs, to put something else on his majesty's mind...

Protesters? Maybe. Organized? No. I've dug around on this story all week and can't find a single person or organization who is "organizing" anything, much less applied for city permits. So I didn't write anything about it.

Rumors? Sure. In fact, there are so many that the group Silence is Violence (which organized the march on City Hall last year) felt compelled to put out the following statement:

SilenceIsViolence is *not* planning a protest against Nagin on Friday...While some of us may well be out there in personal protest, we are not planning (nor have we indicated that we are planning) anything organized.

Some people have told me they are coming with their friends. Others have said they are not. Others have declined comment. But if there's any common thread, it's that I was unable to find any individual or group who has organized, or intends to organize, a protest.

Unsourced rumors are not news. Or they shouldn't be.

Big Red isn't a reporter. She's a blogger. An online opinion columnist. She isn't employed by the Times-Picayune. And that placement, and that wording, give the impression that her personal opinions carry the same weight and responsibility as news reporting. That's wrong.

It isn't accurate, it isn't fair to Ray Nagin, it isn't fair to the hotel, and it isn't fair to the Times-Picayune reporters who deal in facts, not opinion. It's tabloidesque, and it stands a good chance of unnecessarily inflaming what is already a very tense city.

I don't blame Big Red - it's not her responsibility that her blogpost (a statement of opinion, not a news story; a nola.com blogpost, not a Times-Picayune report) ended up so prominently in a place where it could easily be mistaken for a news story. Nor did she write that headline. But it is, at the very least, misleading, and at worst could inflame tensions unnecessarily.

If somebody wants to step forward in comments and take the responsibility of being an official spokesman for some major organized protest, then I'll amend this post, but until then, nola.com needs to back up that inflammatory front-page headline with some actual reporting, or just cool it.

Now help me down off this soapbox.

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