I get email news alerts from the Times; I see these on my Blackberry. Thankfully, it is still a free feature and the little stubs of information do not count as articles against the twenty free ones per month. It's a great way to keep up with what's going on in the nation and the world, especially when you are on the go and can't get to radio, television or the computer. So last night I get one at 5:47 pm CDT. Titled "Up to 30 Dismembered Bodies Found Near Houston, Reuters Reports," it is startling to me. In fact, my very first thought is that it is an uncharacteristic story for the Times to give much play. It seems out of character. Well, my puzzlement increased when about an hour later I get another news alert. The title of this one reads, "Sheriff's Office Has Not Found Bodies at Site of Reported Graves, Houston Chronicle Says." This morning the story is more fleshed out. A person identifying themselves as a "psychic" told authorities that there were bodies at a certain house near Houston. She called back after the first search yielded nothing, and gave a second location. At the second location, a family's home where the people were out of town, authorities found blood--blood left from an apparent suicide attempt at the location in the recent past but no bodies. Now a new hunt is on, for the tipster.
It cannot be good for a news organization to have to put out a retraction an hour after it "breaks" a story. While it is good to be the first if you can to break a story, it is bad to break something that turns out to be absolutely nothing. In fact, this story so disappeared for the Times that it did not appear in the top three U.S. news items in the headline summary delivered to my email box this morning. It's very obvious that the New York Times is stumbling as it tries to find footing in the digital age, to retain its prestige as one of the nation's top news sources, yet be fresh enough to garner new readers and try to work the newspaper model, and make enough money to stay in business. In its efforts to do this, the Times tripped up last night. It will be interesting to see if there is any fall out.