Just how powerful is social media? Today it is the most powerful force in communications, and newspapers and other traditional media outlets are learning that hard lesson every day.
The Kansas City Star, which used to dominate and influence millions of people in the Midwest, was forced to humble itself and completely remove a guest column by a woman first on its Web site and then in print on Saturday that suggested women could take any steps to avoid being raped.
In the column posted on the Star’s Web site titled “Women can take action to prevent rapes,” the author, a female teacher with more than 25 years experience, suggested that women should avoid getting so drunk that they don’t know what is happening.
“I empathize with women who have been raped,” wrote the author. “I would also like to remind men that ‘no means no’ (and if someone is too drunk to say no, then no is implied); that no matter what a woman wears or does, she isn’t ‘asking for it.”
The Star’s publisher eliminated the offending column and penned a lengthy mea culpa after the social media uproar over “victim shaming.” It was a humbling act by a once-powerful newspaper.
Tony Botello, who operates the most influential blog in the KC area, Tony’s Kansas City, summarized it expertly: “In the final analysis, the editorial snafu offers another look at the fading impact of the newspaper and the continued rise of social media outrage influencing not only the nation’s politics but also so-called opinion makers.”
The Pitch, an alternative weekly in Kansas City, quickly attacked its McClatchy-owned rival on its Web site, labeling the column “victim blaming.”
“To the editors of the Star: What were you thinking when you signed off on this victim-blaming bullshit?” asked the Pitch’s Justin Kendall (LINK).
Tony Berg, who took over the helm as president and publisher of the Star in January, apologized for the incendiary column. It should be noted in the past few years the Star has eliminated hundreds of editors and journalists from its staff who might have questioned the tone of the column. Berg’s entire newspaper career has been on the business side of operations.
“The column explored the understandably sensitive issue of rape,” wrote Berg. “In hindsight, it should never have been published.”
It used to be that traditional media outlets such as newspapers, radio and TV outlets dictated the news. Today, however, social media influencers (many anonymous) often dictate and censor what information can and cannot be seen.
Voltaire would not be pleased.