Two Fridays ago, the website PropertyofZack.com (POZ) broke the story that venerable pop punk act Fall Out Boy was ending its three-plus year hiatus and planned to reunite on the stage again. News that should have brought excitement to the band’s enormous fan base actually created a firestorm, calling into question journalism ethics in the music news world and, in many ways, showing the fine line journalists walk when it comes to publishing stories like this.
Let’s back up a few months. Zack Zarrillo revealed in a blog post after the news broke, that this is a story he’s been working on since early December. While he could have published the story before Christmas, he waited for more sources in order to not burn every bridge he’s built in his years as the head of POZ. Taking months to secure multiple reliable and well-informed sources, he gathered all the information he needed and finally published the story on Jan. 25.
Then a lot of confusing and ethically compromising things happened.
POZ’s story was soon linked to by a music website with a very large readership, AbsolutePunk.net. The website’s creator, Jason Tate, verified that he had known this was in the works and had imparted some guidance on Zarrillo. Tate holds a large amount of respect in the music community so his support sealed the deal for many who were skeptic about the news.
That was until Fall Out Boy band member Joe Trohman tweeted a denial of the claim, which many took as the final word. While several fans recognized the allusions in the tweet to the Skate & Surf Festival taking place in April and took this is as more of an admittance that the band was reuniting, many were far less perceptive.
And those were the people Alternative Press Magazine decided to target when it published its own article on their website that denied POZ’s story was true and even quoted the bands manager as saying, “No. We’re not doing anything.”
Whether it was the truth or not a problem arose: in the Alternative Press article there was no mention of POZ a.k.a. the reason its denial story was run in the first place. This failure to credit POZ was called into question by Zarrillo on Twitter. A reply from Alternative Press editor Scott Heisel reveals that they didn’t credit Zarrillo’s site because he would not reveal his sources.
This was a serious breach in journalism ethics. The story that Alternative Press published on its website brought a fair amount of traffic, considering the weight that the publication has in a certain sector of the music world. This is traffic that they generated by piggybacking off of Zarrillo’s story but not mentioning him once. It’s also worth noting that they attempted to discredit the reunion claims calling the announcement “rumors” rather than the confirmed news that POZ published it as.
Another journalistic issue that’s arisen is if Zarrillo should have published the story knowing that the band would not want it revealed at this moment. One of the most important things I’ve learned in my college journalism classes is that journalists are here for the people, not an “arm of the government,” or, I suppose you can say in this case, the band. Zarrillo published a story that he knew would have repercussions, but he did it because the general public, has a right to know. He didn’t let the bands’ timing preference influence his decision to publish the story.
There’s a lot that can be said about a story like this, but I think the most important aspect to take away is that online journalism may be fairly new but it cannot abandon age-old journalism rules, i.e. crediting sources and never forgetting that a journalist’s job is to report the news. While there does need to be transparency in the media for the people to be able to trust news outlets, it’s also very important for reporters to not reveal anonymous sources. Keeping a source anonymous that wishes to remain so helps the journalist to develop a trusted reputation.
It also sheds a light on the politics of online news reporting. I can’t say I’m an expert but I know enough to realize that getting a high amount of website traffic and having a devoted readership are two of the most important things in running a website. Purposely not mentioning a source can be construed as a website not wanting to bring traffic to a rival website. I mean, hey, I didn’t want to link to Alternative Press’s article or Scott Heisel’s twitter account and give them any more exposure, but that would be just as unethical as what they did and paint me in an immature light. It’s my job as a writer to present the most information I can – regardless of personal opinions.
Alexa Hoyle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.