March 02, 2007

AP Self-Censors Against Paris Hilton for a Week

There's no question that Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan get way too much ink in comparison to their combined limited talents. Hardly a week goes by when they don't find themselves on the cover of the magazines at the supermarket checkout stand, or turn up with mugshots in the Smoking Gun. It turns out the Associated Press tried a move to ignore Hilton for an entire week, and see if the world would spin off its axis. Turns out we'll live, yet from a journalistic perspective, I think it's a big mistake and sets bad precedent.

As a student of journalism, I felt the editors of a newspaper, magazine or wire service had a duty to relay news to the public, without bias or an agenda. The opinion pages and columnists would do one thing, and the news writers would do another. The editorial board would not tell the reporters what was on or off limits, and wouldn't take self-imposed vacations for any amount of time.

The question of whether anything Hilton or the other girls do qualifies as "news" is a different issue, but in a piece that hit CNN, an AP editor wrote, "Editors just wanted to see what would happen if we didn't cover this media phenomenon, this creature of the Internet gossip age, for a full week. After that, we'd take it day by day. Would anyone care?", and I think the move was wrong. It's a slippery slope between making a rule that the AP would not cover Paris Hilton one week, and then deciding later they were tired of covering Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama the next.

While I laud the concept of ignoring Paris Hilton, and others like Engadget's Ryan Block do as well, I don't like the idea of the media deciding what news the public deserves to get. The New York Times famously covered "All the News Fit to Print", not "All the News We Decided to Cover" or "All the News Minus a Few Things". Additionally, in a world where topically-focused news magazines, shows and blogs are there to pick up the slack, it's not as if the AP's supposed boycott had any kind of impact. Journalistic integrity suffered without benefiting the public.