Blogger is not a dirty word
Posted at 3:27 PM on September 19, 2007 by Bill Wareham (2 Comments)
It's a brave new journalism world out there, or so I learned after deciding we should broadcast/publish an Associated Press item drawn from blogger Eric Black's reporting on an investigation into whether U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose mishandled classified information and retaliated against staff who questioned her actions.
The decision raised a couple of questions around the newsroom and this comment from an online reader:
Mainstream journalism really yields its voice when it is reduced to reporting what bloggers say.
All we are left with are those who create gossip (bloggers, etc.) and those who gossip about the gossip (mainstream journalism).
Come on MPR, you can do better; and should!!
To be fair to the writer, I did have to think this through a little bit, but ultimately it wasn't a difficult decision. While certainly there are quite a few bloggers who traffic in gossip, there are also many who slog away in the honest pursuit of journalism. Not only do I put Mr. Black in the latter category, but he isn't new to this business. To be sure, his years at the Star Tribune don't grant him instant credibility, but they do provide a reference point for judging the reliability of anything he publishes now.
So, it wasn't tough for me to air/publish the information with the same kind of attribution we'd give a credible report from a newspaper or television station.
But what is the journalistic standard? If Eric Black works for you and comes in with the story that is not confirmed by any named sources; do you run the story? Assuming you might, what is the basis for the decision?
Are there a list of bloggers you judge reliable? What are the standards Eric Black applies to his blogging; and who applies those standards day in and day out, story-by-story?
Unnamed sources are problematic. If your own reporter builds a story on an unnamed source, do you question who the source is and the level of verification of the story; or do you just say "Well I trust you, so any story you walk in with will do?"
Eric Black did not submit a story to you for consideration and review. He wrote his blog. And your story is essentially that E Black wrote a blog. But the public's interest is not really that Mr. Black (who by the way I also find a credible and valuable reporter) blogged but rather the investigation of an important public official; and that should call for a full application of journalistic standards.
So what I say to you is not so much a challenge as to why the story (and I recognize these kinds of stories get created every day) ran--but to express that the 'muddy standards' lower my trust. Any given story, or news organization, really is as strong as the weakest link. Even within the reporting of this story (I read the account you posted, the one in the Strib and Pioneer Press) it quickly becomes foggy what information is coming from whom. So at the end of the day all I know is what a blogger said an unnamed source said. And the journalistic standard is to what extent the news organization trusts the individual blogger.
I do value blogs, and I understand you cannot just ignore them, or do your own investigation on every story bloggers post. But I think there must be much stronger and clearer standards applied as to what/when/how to use these sources--and secondly, the writing needs to be clear as to what information in stories come from what sources and the basis for assigning credibility to a particular source.
Posted by Philip Hannam | September 20, 2007 8:39 AM
I think you hit on all the critical points in the discussion. It's all stuff I considered and I take none of it lightly.
I think a key distinction that needs to be highlighted is that I still consider Mr. Black a reporter who is committed to maintaining journalistic standards in his work. I can't ignore his reporting just because it appears in a blog rather than a newspaper. If his journalistic standards appear to drop because of his current work situation, well then I'll rethink passing the information along.
Posted by Bill Wareham | September 25, 2007 2:45 PM