A few days after the birth of Jay-Z and Beyonce’s daughter Blue Ivy Carter Rolling Out premiered a story regarding a poem they received dedicated to Blue Ivy, supposedly by Jay-Z, in which he swears off the use of the word “bitch.” Accusations of hypocrisy (didn’t he still use it on ‘Watch The Throne’ and its subsequent tour a mere month ago? What about all those other women, why was it okay then?) as well as praise for this new direction next to comments on how corny it was perceived to be flew around. The news quickly raised eyebrows over at the TRU offices though; Why would Jay release it as a poem and not a song, especially when he just released a song dedicated to his daughter, with no mention of this? And why premier it through ‘Rolling Out’ and not on his own Life + Times online magazine or any of the many Roc Nation affiliated sites? So we went the only logical route when you’re faced with a story that has some questionable content; we asked some questions.
Word from the Roc camp was clear right away and left little room for interpretation: “Confirmed as 100% horse dung.” So we laughed it off and decided not to do anything with the story.
Cue a little under a week later and I see the story pop up in a newspaper on my morning commute. Granted, it was a free tabloid newspaper distributed on the train station, so I shrugged it of as lazy reporting from a lousy newspaper. Until I heard it on the radio. And read it on another blog, and another blog, and another blog. Even reputable (or at least, big) magazines like NME and New York repeated it verbatim. So did (among a bevy of others) usually reliable British newspaper The Guardian, who were forced to admit they screwed up yesterday. Writer dream hampton, who collaborated with Jay-Z on his book ‘Decoded’ tweeted about the fakeness of the story and so did frequent collaborator and Roots drummer ?uestlove. Jay himself eventually even adressed the NY Daily News about it.
We’ve asked Rolling Out writer Renee Gardner (whose article premiered the story) about her source but so far she hasn’t responded. What’s abundantly clear about the story is that someone made it up though. Persistent rumors with little or no base aren’t anything new to pop culture, in the 90s everybody heard the story about Tommy Hilfiger supposedly said he hated all these black hip-hop kids in his preppy outfits when he was on the Oprah Winfrey show, and even Oprah stating Tommy Hilfiger had up to that point never been on her show couldn’t stop the story from spreading. Same with the fabrication that Lauryn Hill once said she would rather see her family starve than a white person buying her album ‘The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill.’ From Wikipedia (glad it’s back!):
In 1998, a caller on The Howard Stern Show mentioned that he heard Lauryn Hill state on MTV “I would rather have my family starve than have white people buy my albums”. MTV publicly disclaimed the quotation, and after a discussion on The Howard Stern Show, Hill herself called in from Norway to refute the rumor, stating “How can I possibly be a racist? My music is universal music. And I believe in God. If I believe in God, then I have to love all of God’s creations. There can be no segregation”. She also told Teen People magazine “There’s absolutely nothing racist about anything in my heart”. In a later interview with MTV, Hill stated “Everybody has to be really careful on what they read and hear. Because of what some radio personality chose to say, he had a bunch of people believing something that they never actually seen or heard themselves, but just heard a rumor.” As this rumor would continue through the press, Hill would repeatedly assert in later interviews that this accusation was false, that she never made such statements, would never make such statements, and that she is in no way racist.
And you wonder why she leads such a withdrawn life. That’s peanuts compared to what’s going with Jigga, but what’s surprising about this particular “bitch word controversy” is not how easily it spread, but how easily it spread among reputable newspapers and magazines. Those that employ full squads of writers, editors and you know, journalists, who supposedly regard certain journalistic standards. I’m not surprised thousands of people, including crappy bloggers, will retweet and repeat something stupid if they deem it saucy enough. After all, we’re online, and everybody misguidedly wants to yell “FIRST” in the high speed race of the blogosphere, but when it comes to the traditional media, who’s reliability and believability should be the very key to their business model, this is unacceptable.
Which isn’t to say bloggers should be excused. The internet is fast-tracked, sure, but that means a fact is checked much faster as well. Jay-Z is on Twitter. He owns a bazillion companies. All these companies have phone numbers, mail adresses, websites and Twitter accounts. They’re all staffed with people maintaining these channels. You may not get in touch with the man himself easily, but any of his people can be reached in under 5 minutes. Of course, actually checking something takes time, even if it’s little time, and precious seconds tick, in which a ton of other sites also run with it. But they all look like fools now, and if we’re all rehashing the same story anyway, what gives your site any reason to exist in the first place?
But for newspapers this is even worse. For years the pushers of dead trees have been bemoaning this horrible internet taking away all their readers with those fast stories, and stealing the ones they worked so hard on researching. Getting caught with your pants down doing the exact same thing vice versa is not only calling the kettle black, it makes you look like an idiot, because you will never be as fast as the internet. Instead of competing with blogs you will never beat, because they’re working in an entirely different medium, recognize the strong suits of your own medium and emphasize those. Use that network of reporters and fact checkers, work on the full picture, get to the meat of the story and then write it. Long text pieces work better on paper than online most of the time, so focus on those. Write for the people who’ve already heard the news in short bursts on the internet, TV and radio and now want to know want to be informed beyond the catchy soundbites. Your story has to be printed before it can get to the people anyway, use that to your advantage instead of detriment. You have the time until the second those presses roll to get the story straight. In short, get your friggin’ Woodward & Bernstein on and show those bloggers how real journalism works.
Or don’t, and find yourselves circling further into the drain of irrelevancy.