Sunday, January 14, 2007

Bloggers As Serious Journalists

Today's post comes from yesterday's Washington Post (WP).

Next week, VP Dick Cheney's former chief of staff Scooter Libby goes on trial on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

The trial will be notable for something else beside its connection to the Bush White House: "For the first time in a federal court, two of these [100 seats set aside for the media] . . . will be reserved for bloggers.

"After two years of negotiations with judicial officials across the country, the Media Bloggers Association, a nonpartisan group with about 1,000 members working to extend the powers of the press to bloggers, has won credentials to rotate among its members."

According to Wikipedia, "Since 2002, blogs have gained increasing notice and coverage for their role in breaking, shaping, and spinning news stories. The Iraq War saw bloggers taking measured and passionate points of view that go beyond the traditional left-right divide of the political spectrum."

Rathergate, the scandal surrounding 60 Minutes anchor Dan Rather, was largely fueled by bloggers, who were the first to insist that the documents Rather produced to support his story about President Bush's military service were forgeries. Wikipedia says, "Many bloggers view this scandal as the advent of blogs' acceptance by the mass media, both as a source of news and opinion and as means of applying political pressure."

Bloggers continue to seek validation as serious journalists. However, many of them resist the rules by which the industry operates. "'The Internet today is like the American West in the 1880s. It's wild, it's crazy and everybody's got a gun,' said Thomas Kunkel, dean of the University of Maryland's journalism school. "There are no rules yet.'" (WP)

This carefree attitude toward reporting is likely to land many bloggers in legal trouble. "According to the Media Law Resources Center, 69 lawsuits have been brought against bloggers nationwide, including a $1 million suite filed last year against Maine blogger Lance Dutson, who accused his state's tourism department of wasting taxpayer money in a promotional campaign. The advertising agency that developed it sued for libel, defamation and copyright infringement, but ended up dropping the suite (sic) after advocates rallied to Dutson's defense." (WP) See my post of May 14, 2006 for more information on the Dutson affair.

The Post quoted a recent survey by the Pew Center in which bloggers were asked how carefully they pay attention to common journalistic practices like verifying facts and seeking both sides of a story. Forty-two percent of those responding reported that they hardly ever or never verify facts. Forty-one percent report that they don't include links to the original source material. Sixty-one percent indicated they hardly ever or never get permission to post copyrighted material.

As bloggers gain increasing credibility--and audience share--they are bound to face increasing liability. From the responses to the survey, it appears that few, if any, realize the risks they might be incurring.


lainey bancroft said...

Even larger than the risk to bloggers is the risk to blog readers IMHO. Many people who don't read traditional newspapers surf the internet and glom on to which ever blog most suits their own opinion. The risk of these somewhat ignorant individuals to spread the slanted views of others as actual fact is extremely high. Look at the people devoted to those lovely grocery store rags. They'd loyally swear if you read it in the 'Star' or the 'Enquirer', it must be gospel truth.

RE: your earlier post about iPhone. You likely already know this as the thorough researcher that you are, but if you go to, there is a lengthy tutorial on the phone. My techno-son has watched it at least twice, quite impressive from the bits I've seen. It appears to do everything but windows. It already has the capacity to download ebooks, and is compatible with PC. His 14 y.o gadget-junkie heart is broken to discover the technology will not be available in Canada until late 07/early08. But that gives him an entire season of grass cutting to save the money for it :)

Maya Reynolds said...

Lainey: You're speaking to the overall danger of the Internet: the tendency of people to believe whatever they see.

I've repeatedly warned readers that they cannot simply trust even a site as large as Wikipedia, which is based on an open source philosophy, meaning anyone can post anything.

For the purposes of this blog, I try not to post anything unless I have found a second source that confirms it--even though I might not cite that second source in my post.

Thanks for the info on the iPhone. Since my phone contract doesn't expire for some time, I haven't been motivated to seek out the specs on the iPhone yet. Besides, knowing me, I'll wait until others have had a chance to use and critique it before investing a chunk of money.