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Online media matters

Main Page Rants

It bleeds, but doesn’t lead

When reports of up to 3,000 causalities broke around 10:45 a.m. ET, it seemed a no-brainer what the lead story should be, especially at the online news sites.

But, after almost 30 minutes, CNN.com was leading with Michael Jackson being indicted, The New York Times with violence in Iraq stopping business, and The Globe and Mail was playing the Liberal sponsorship scandal up.

The Globe finally bumped the story up to second at 11:22 a.m. ET, when the other two had merely updated their main pictures. An hour after the story broke, the Times pushed the story to number three. Both were using the same Associated Press copy. (To be fair, the international edition of CNN.com was leading with the explosion shortly after it broke.)

Granted, the accident did happen in North Korea, a country notoriously closed to foreigners and the media. As a a result, the numbers can’t be confirmed; independent and eye-witness reports were scarce but it was the biggest train disaster yet, and may be the biggest industrial disaster since the Union Carbide spill in Bhopal 20 years ago.

Are political and entertainment scandals really more newsworthy, or has the media’s audience been trained to want these “high-mental-carb” stories?

On good days, I’d say no; the editors are merely struggling to balance the speed of the news with their own news judgement. On bad days, well…