Blogging's credibility dilemma

, posted: 27-Mar-2007 11:24

There's something of a debate going on over at Mauricio's blog as to the perceived lack of accuracy in the "mainstream media" and how blogging and bloggers are taking over as credible news sources. Paul Brislen whom I've worked with for many years explains rather well how the editorial process works in most publications - I'd urge anyone to read his comments.

Why? Well, I've lost count of the amount of times I've been contacted by people - mainly geeks - who think I write, edit and publish the various organs I contribute to. I don't, and the jobs as Paul points out are in fact done by separate people that I have no control over.

Although there's scope for the process to go wrong simply because shit happens when different people get together to do anything, usually it works to the readers' advantage. They get better copy to read.

In comparison, a blogger's only quality control mechanism is the comments section. However, comments are moderated by the blogger at his/her discretion. Some bloggers allow for critical comments, but not everyone. You can also start a flame war in the blogosphere and slag off bloggers you perceive are inaccurate or just don't like but... ultimately, there's no editorial department for bloggers.

"Ah, but you see, that's why bloggers aren't held to the same standard as the MSM, because they don't have the same editorial support," I hear you say. If that's so, how can bloggers ever hope to be anywhere near as credible as the MSM?

Bloggers are also far more vulnerable to outside pressure than the MSM. How many bloggers have legal Rottweilers at the ready to defend what they write? What do you mean, they can't afford to? You need strong, nasty lawyers when the going gets tough, plus a big war chest to pay for them. Legal threats, sometimes baseless, are part and parcel of journalism. If you haven't sweated bullets over a lawyer's nastygram, billed at hundreds of dollars an hour, you haven't written anything worth reading.

Journalism of today has been bashed into its current shape over several centuries. It's not perfect by any means, but for bloggers to assume that they can trump all that experience and skill by simply appearing on the Internet is naïve.

Furthermore, the world isn't black-and-white, and there are always several angles to just about every story. Journalists are meant to reflect the real world, in my opinion. I'm really well-behaved and not at all eccentric, but there are some amusing crazies in the business, like this person:

One NYT auto writer is notorious drunk driver, fond of racing hoopties down the Lodge FWY at 110 miles per hour back when he worked at Detroit Free Press.

The auto insurance premiums Knight-Ridder had to pay for him were allegedly astronomical. Even better, he told me personally he used to be a coke dealer but narrowly escaped conviction--in what is an inarguably brilliant plan, he was paying for J-school with the profits.

And perhaps even better than that: the Free Press let him go to Cuba, via Canada, to do story on hoopties there and he managed to get his guide/interpreter PG, and has a 5-year-old kid there he's utterly uninterested in. Nothing Steve Dunleavy has ever done could top that!

Going back to the root of Mauricio's post, technical accuracy, it's something that annoys me as well. With technology, it's actually critical to get the facts right because otherwise the stories make little sense.

That said, technology for normal people is that daily irritant to deal with, the stuff that never quite works right. Normal people's interest in technology is limited to finding ways to either sort out problems or how to avoid them. Only geeks care about things like which cellular network technology is the best, operating system comparisons or whether or not Internet speed is best measured in bits or bytes per second.

And, that small number of geeks isn't representative of the mainstream audience that general news organisations cater for, I'm afraid. That's actually a good thing, as it gives those willing to roll up the sleeves and get dirty with tech an opportunity.

Update I need a sub ed for the blog. Accidentally deleted "credibility" in the headline... sigh.


Other related posts:
Twitter reporting
Speaking of prank calls
What PR people really think of journalists

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