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December 10, 2004

CBSNewstwit Bloviates on Bloggers

A lot of people are talking about this piece -- including, hysterically enough, the fact that a piece critical of the accuracy and responsibility of bloggers getting facts about bloggers wrong and then "correcting" them without taking responsibility for the error -- but I have a much simpler take.

But where journalists' careers may be broken on ethics violations, bloggers are writing in the Wild West of cyberspace. There remains no code of ethics, or even an employer, to enforce any standard.

First of all, let me say that most of reporting is easy. It consists primarily of jotting down what someone said and then typing it up. You don't need to verify, for example, what Karl Rove says about the "mood" of the Bush camp -- it doesn't matter if he's lying or telling the truth, the fact that an important person is making a statement is news in and of itself.

A lot of reportage just consists of writing down what spokesmen and "high administration sources" think. Now, it takes some skill and time to cultivate sources, but there's no massive fact-checking going on in most stories.

Investigative pieces are a different story-- but that's where the media usually makes almost all of its biggest mistakes, usually because they were too sloppy to fact-check, or that they wanted the story to be true, or that they just wanted to make the story juicier than the facts would allow.

Time and time again, the mainstream media gets things flat-out wrong, or at least very distorted, by deliberately leaving out critical information that would make the audience better informed but which would hurt the "story" -- not the facts, mind you, but the "story" -- by making it more ambiguous, less emphatic, less sexy.

And what does the media always say when it blows one of these stories?

It's a mantra. You've heard it thousand times before: We get most of these things right. Sometimes errors slip through; that's invevitable, given tight deadlines and human fallibility.

Sounds reasonable enough, I suppose.

But I wonder: Why is this same lenient standard never applied to bloggers or others working in alternative media?

I've made mistakes. So has Drudge. So has Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, etc. We've all made mistakes.

But why is it that we are not given the slack the mainstream media gives itself? The mainstream media always likes to point out We get most of this stuff right.

Well, quite frankly, I get most of this stuff right, myself. I went out on a limb a bit with the Bill Burkett stuff, because I smelled "story" and traffic; but it turns out, of course, that I was right.

And I don't have an editor, a fact-checker, or even an intern.

I've got deadlines too, guys.

As they say, every profession is a conspiracy against the layman. And in this instance, the conspiracy is, as usual, the credentialed professionals protecting themselves by employing a fairly flexible standard as far as their own accuracy and credibility.

But for those outside the profession -- for those not on a major-media outlet's payroll -- the standard seems to be quite a bit more strict, doesn't it? We get most of this stuff right doesn't seem to apply to us.

If you guys want to judge us by a strict standard of perfect accuracy, then start judging yourselves by the same standard, and stop making excuses every time you blow a story.

If no one should trust a blogger if he makes one big mistake, then no one should trust Dan Rather, either, and he should have been fired years ago.

If Dan Rather has been allowed multiple second chances, I don't see why I should be so allowed, either.

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posted by Ace at 04:06 AM

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