Late last year Jeff Jarvis asked what was the core function carried out by newspapers, and earlier this week I had a stab at answering that question by writing about what newspapers don't do - the vast range of functions that a newspaper can outsource (including printing and writing the thing) and still be considered a newspaper. My tentative conclusion was that newspapers' core value is in verification - in deciding what to print on the basis of whether it is (verifiably) true.
Two pieces of news this week that touch on the same theme.
First, Adrian Monck reports - with appropriate glee - that the Sun was stung into publishing pictures of a shark spotted off Cornwall that was in fact photographed in South Africa, apparently relying for verification on the fact that the Newquay Voice and Newquay Guardian had already published the story. So far so silly - on one level it's the same failure of validation that we saw from the Mirror's publication of the fake Abu Ghraib photos, but ultimately it lacks the significance or the consequences.
Second, and more seriously, AT&T has found itself in hot water (ArsTechnica) for apparently censoring part of a Pearl Jam concert in which the band mocked President Bush. AT&T rapidly backpedalled (Reuters), blaming the censoring on a "mistake by a webcast vendor"...but this defence rather badly misses the point that if AT&T is going to set itself up as a content provider, it is going to have to take responsibility for the content it does - or doesn't - provide. The net neutrality debate aside, if AT&T goes beyond providing a pipe through which users can download anything they want to selecting content they can't just leave that selection to someone else and then complain after the fact that their internal policies weren't followed.