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April 26, 2007 by  


Wikinomics and the Firing of Don Imus

Courtesy Eric Chabrow, CIO (www.cioinsight.com)

In the end, Don Imus’ racist and sexist words got him fired. But very few people would have been aware that the long-time radio-show host and shock jock uttered those nasty words if it weren’t for a blogger.

Ryan Chiachiere, a researcher for the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America, was up at 6:14 a.m. on April 4 and heard Imus refer to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team players as “nappy-headed ho’s,” according to a Page One story in Friday’sWall Street Journal [subscription required]. Later that day, Chiachiere posted a 775-word blog about Imus’ comments along with a video of his utterance on the Media Matters website. A week and a day later, Imus was out of a job.

Imus’ firing, in one respect, was Wikinomics in action: the American community collaborating together, using the latest information and communications technologies, determined the employment of an individual. Chiachiere’s blog got the ball rolling. Imus’ firing was a multimedia affair. E-mails quickly followed, then the print and broadcast media picked up the story. The news coverage spurred events: staged protests against Imus. Imus’ invective became the topic de jour for online chats, watercooler conversations and late-night pillow-talk. Advertisers pulled adds from Imus In the Morning, produced by CBS Radio, and simulcasted on cable TV by MSNBC. As all the media interacted, and a consensus grew that Imus must go, the pressure mounted for the networks to act.

We’ve seen it before. Remember Dan Rather? After a four-decade career at CBS News, the former Evening News anchor was forced out after bloggers, conservative and liberal, questioned the authenticity of documents he based a September 2004 60 Minutes report that President Bush, as a Texas Air National Guard officer decades earlier, was found unfit for flight status after he failed to submit to a physical exam. Other media quickly picked up on the bloggers’ postings.

No doubt economics played a major part in the departure from the airwaves of Rather and Imus. Rather’s Evening News ratings were a distant third to his competitors at ABC and NBC. In the end, he just wasn’t generating the kind of ad revenue CBS expected from its star reporter. Imus, if he continued to broadcast, would have lost millions of dollars in commercial ads for the two networks as advertisers pulled their spots from his program.

What makes Imus’ dismissal different from Rather’s departure from the airwaves is speed. Today, the tumult created by various media working in unintentional harmony can results in quick actions as the community comes to a rapid consensus. About 20 months passed from the ill-fated 60 Minutes report to the time Rather last walked out the doors on West 57th Street. Imus was silenced in eight days.

In a somewhat related incident, my colleague Ed Cone, in his story Beware of Bloggers with Baggage, relates how the blogosphere helped lead to the resignations of two aides to presidential hopeful John Edwards because of past comments they posted on their blogs that some people interpreted as anti-Catholic screeds. In their case, as well as that of Don Imus, they found themselves quickly out of a job because of the speed generated by the blogosphere.

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