Biggest problem facing “blogs”?

I think I know, but its not really what Tom Smith at InformationWeek thinks it is.

One less positive development when it comes to online news and journalism has been the ever-more-fuzzy distinction between blogs–with their lack of fact checking, their flame-oriented reader comments, and other shortcomings–and the journalistic work that drives daily newspapers. Particularly for twenty-somethings and those even younger, I wonder whether they can recognize the difference between blogs and the more traditional forms of reporting and journalism in newspapers.

I barely know where to begin. First lets stop kidding ourselves. Newspapers have opinions and it shows in their journalism, even if all the facts they give us are checked. And lets not kid ourselves there either, from the list at Wikipedia here were a couple of quotes I thought demonstrated the point pretty well:

Her editors had long suspected her of fabulism, but were slow to address it and mistakenly gave the responsibility of fact-checking her work to an editor who was off on the day of the week that one of [the author’s] two weekly columns was due.

or this more recent classic, I’ve removed the specific names, but I think you will all remember this episode, it was pretty big national news for a few weeks:

…testimony from Times watchers and employees disgruntled with [the editors’] autocratic management style showed the duo had fast-tracked [the reporter] for promotion, despite warnings from other employees about [the reporter] erratic behavior and high error rate.

And if that’s not bad enough, who turned these guys in?

The Associated Press moved a story on February 1 [2005] with a picture of what appeared to be an American soldier held hostage in Iraq. The story stated that the captors would kill the soldier in 72 hours unless Iraqi prisoners were freed.

Within hours after the story was published, bloggers who noticed that the photo looked odd figured out that the “hostage” was in fact a G.I. Joe Air Force special operations doll named “Cody.”

The hoax, which ran on the heels of Memogate at CBS, further sullied the media’s reputation for fact-checking. United States Central Command had not reported any soldiers missing at the time. Furthermore, some bloggers noted that the “hostage” was allowed to keep his equipment and grenades, which is not something that militants experienced enough to capture a U.S. soldier would do.

soldier_held.jpgEven if that wasn’t enough, I think the average twenty year old today is hip enough to get their news from a far wider range of sources than I did in 1980 something… And if they aren’t smart enough, how is that the fault of bloggers? I find it ironic (did I use it correctly Ann?) that Smith writes for information week which is a product of CMP media, a company that proudly proclaims its mission:

CMP Media is the premier provider of access, insight and actionable programs that connect sellers to buyers in the technology, healthcare and entertainment industries. Through its market-leading brand portfolio, CMP has earned the trust of industry professionals who regularly read its publications, visit its websites, attend its events and use its services.

Which is to say, “We sell advertising.” (There’s nothing wrong with that.)
You will notice I don’t really argue with Smith’s complaints about the accuracy of blogs, I had that conversation in my garden with Jerome Yavarkovsky in the mid 90′s. As a librarian he had used the Internet since its “academic only” days. Jerome pointed out that one of the main challenges that would be faced as we entered the age of the commercial Internet would be verifying the accuracy of information we found there. I am not surprised that blogs find themselves this situation too.
I think the biggest problem blogs face are being all lumped together in the mind of the public. The range of accuracy is as great as the range of topics. Its still up to the reader to use their mind, the days when you can believe everything you read are long gone, no matter where you read it.
Furthermore, at the moment I do not think blog describes the end product as much as it describes the process of publishing, and the accessibility and capabilities of the tools. In short, a blog is about the freedom for anyone to publish to have a small voice, and about how the readers can interact with them. The word does not describe a media segment as Smith has used it, rather (I hate to use the word…) I see it as a zeitgeist of the specific times in which we live.

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