The journalism debates continue. In a New York Times piece this weekend, Damon Darlin takes aim at the blogosphere and accuses bloggers like TechCrunch's Michael Arrington of taking a "truth-be-damned approach".
Not surprisingly, it has sparked a flurry of responses, including from Arrington, who claims that Darlin took some of his comments out of context.
According to Jeff Jarvis, Darlin's complaint that bloggers are guilty of rampant of rumor-mongering are misplaced. In a post called "Product v. process journalism: The myth of perfection v. beta culture", he likens the type of 'journalism' that takes place in the blogosphere to a sort of public beta, where bloggers publish what they know (or think they know) first and in turn receive help from the community in filling in the details. Arrington latched on to this concept in his rebuttal.
In the past, Jarvis has argued in the past that "Reporting the truth is a collaborative process" and provides a couple of examples of two 'mistakes' the mainstream media made when reporting on big stories.
So who is right? Is the future of journalism akin to beta culture? I sure hope not.
While Jarvis talks about how standards are subjective, in my opinion it's all about intent. Unfailing perfection may not be a realistic goal, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a decent ideal when it comes to getting stories right. When I open up the newspaper or watch a television news broadcast, I understand implicitly that the information I'm consuming may not be entirely accurate but I also expect that the professionals providing it have exercised the amount of due diligence appropriate under the circumstances.
There's a huge difference between CNN tragically reporting that a group of miners had survived a coal mine explosion because that was the information being reported around town and a blogger with a single source who won't go on record claiming that Apple is in talks to acquire Twitter.
In the former, you have a breaking story surrounded by chaos, confusion and human emotion. The news that 12 miners had been found alive apparently spread after townspeople had heard such reports, elected officials in the town were promoting them too and the mining company failed to deny them for hours. Under those circumstances, there was plenty of room for unintentional error.
In the latter, you had a rumor (or 'tip' to be generous) that Twitter was being courted by Apple. TechCrunch's Michael Arrington wrote:
Today, though, rumors popped up that Apple may be looking to buy Twitter. “Apple is in late stage negotiations to buy Twitter and is hoping to announce it at WWDC in June,” said a normally reliable source this evening, adding that the purchase price would be $700 million in cash. The trouble is we’ve checked with other sources who claim to know nothing about any Apple negotiations. If these discussions are happening, Twitter is keeping them very quiet indeed. We would have passed on reporting this rumor at all, but other press is now picking it up.
See the difference? One is an honest mistake based on misinformation that surfaced in a crazy situation; the other is just rumormongering.
It's a lot easier to forgive a news outlet that had the right intent (reporting the information it believed to be true at the time) than it is to forgive a news outlet that had conflicting reports and admitted that it wouldn't have reported on the unverified, anonymous rumor had it not been for the fact that other outlets were jumping into reporting it (and cashing in on the pageviews in the process).
So here's my take: when you report information, label it anything you want. Call it a work in progress. Call it Journalism Beta. But just remember, most consumers don't care what you label your product. If it isn't as described, it's as good as useless.
Photo credit: Young in Panama via Flickr.