“Citizen Journalist” Bloggers Must Practice What They Preach

It’s been a good week for BusinessWeek, which is how I assume the publication measures success – after all, it’s not called BusinessMonth, BusinessQuarterly or BusinessFortnight. Personally, I think there should be a NoneOfYourBusinessWeek, containing news that no one cares about or written in that secret language only twins understand. Actually, that publication is called Newsweek. But I digress.

The real BusinessWeek published a well-researched and well-written cover story about blogging – and in the spirit of practicing what you preach, there is also a BusinessWeek blog. One of the first posts is about a survey of 200 of the “top interactive thinkers” attending the South by SouthWest Interactive Festival (is “thinking” really interactive? I thought it was a solitary exercise, like meditating or being a Buffalo Bills fan).

According to the survey, 42 percent of respondents said they believe that “blogging has forced mainstream media to do a better job of reporting.” However, 62 percent believe “bloggers should not be held to the same standards of accuracy and ethics as journalists.”

So if I understand this logic correctly, “bloggers” (at least those relatively few bloggers who also consider themselves reporters) are improving journalistic standards, but don’t think they should adhere to those standards themselves. Wow, and people think I’m arrogant because I went to the Missouri School of Journalism and therefore believe all other J-Schools suck.

BusinessWeek reporter Heather Green seemed confused as well, commenting that accuracy was fundamental to blogging. Again, this is true only if the blogger in question considers him or herself a reporter – besides, if a blogger is not accurate or is spreading false information, other bloggers will find out and set the record straight anyway.

If you are a “citizen journalist” blogger, as Dan Gillmor calls them, then yes, you do need to be accurate and ethical. But so do “mainstream” journalists. So do teachers and politicians. So do parents and businesspeople. You don’t get extra points for doing stuff you are supposed to do as a contributing member of the species.

I am concerned that the blogosphere is doing a much better job of reporting than the “professional” journalists. When I left full-time journalism for public relations in 1994, I worried that I would be forced to compromise my ethical standards – to “spin” or outright lie on behalf of a client. Journalism had clear codes of conduct, lines you dared not cross. Public relations’ job was to move those lines whenever necessary.

I was wrong about PR, for the most part. But it turns out I was wrong about journalism, too.

I used to think I knew what a journalist was – Ed Murrow on a roof, Ernie Pyle in a foxhole, Bob Woodward in a parking garage. Now I only know what a journalist is not.

If your mouth is bigger than your brain, you are not a journalist. If your name is Geraldo, you are not a journalist. If you get paid by a PR firm to write stories that benefit that firm’s clients, not only are you not a journalist, you are a scumbag.

I hope the 42 percent grows – we need better journalism, and bloggers are leading the way. And I hope the 62 percent drops, because accuracy and ethics are everyone’s responsibility.

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One Response to “Citizen Journalist” Bloggers Must Practice What They Preach

  1. Wow, Gary, tell us how you really feel. While I agree that BusinessWeek did a generally decent mainstream job of reporting on blogs, it seems that the legitimacy of blogs is now focusing on whether bloggers are journalist and the standards they need to adhere to. I agree that regardless of your point of view, accuracy and ethics starts and ends with the blogger. The debate as to either “you is or you ain’t” is somewhat moot given that people will believe whatever the hell they want regardless of the source. The issue regarding blogs seems to me to be not just what bloggers are, but how do we use this to better understand the world and its complexities? As communicators, we well understand Rudyard Kipling’s admonition that “words, are of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Indeed. And like all drugs, our new Internet drug can either heal or destroy. Peace.

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