February 17th, 2008
Recently Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten of The Next Web (a blog I also write for) reported on what was a breaking story on independent record label, Dependent Records, closing shop and making their entire catalog available on file sharing site, Pirate Bay. It turns out the story was a hoax, republished by a number of sites.
Dependent Records followed up with an arguably justified attack on the bloggers who republished the story (which originated from Torrent Freak) because of their lack of fact checking.
“The reaction of Torrentfreak.com founder and correspondant “Ernesto” was to note that since he has a full-time job, “doing extensive research is not always an option”. He had apparently read news of the label’s closing on the Dependent web site and taken the Pirate Bay story at face value; the facts that the person pretending to be Stefan Herwig misspelled the name of the label in the original announcement, and that the official label website made no mention of this unusual offer, failed to raise any red flags with either Torrentfreak.com nor any of the other Internet sites which reprinted the story verbatim.”
Dependent Records founder, Stefan Herwig, is justifiably angry about the mis-reporting (stated by Herwig to be upwards of 15 blogs, but chances are it is a lot more than that), but how much can we expect in terms of accuracy from blogs in the first place?
As blogs gain a larger and larger role in the reporting of events around us, it is more and more important to understand who is behind the blogs and that they are not necessarily professional journalists. Often a blogger is someone who has an area of interest that they keep up with to some level, feel they have a few things to say about it, and start writing. It is not a restricted medium (although access to some form of computer does seem to be pretty important) and so you will see various levels of professionalism. That is the nature of the medium.
Loading expectations on to the blog world for journalistic integrity is flawed logic in my view. The medium is not a medium of journalism, but of expression. What confuses this distinction in some peoples minds is the that some blogs such as New York Times, Tech Crunch and yes, maybe even The Next Web, are produced by organizations or groups of individuals who choose to present theselves as serious journalists. Sometimes the a large following for a blog can catapult them in to the same expectations as the journalism based sites as seems to be the case with Torrent Freak. Although Torrent Freak would have a hard time arguing against being held to the standards of a serious news source with this from their “About” page :
“… TorrentFreak aims to be a credible news source. …”
Still I have a hard time taking things I would read on Torrent Freak as fact. It is just the nature of blogs.
For instance, this blog is not a serious attempt at journalism, it is opinion, it is things I learned that I think are interesting enough to share. It certainly doesn’t undergo the same research depth I would use when I write for the Japan Times or The Next Web. And I think that is fine for this particular medium.
Blogs are forums for small bits of information from various sources being passed on. They are mediums of personal expression and of organisational expression. By nature they are tainted by the experience of the author, for good and for bad. Those sources can be reputable or not and from a variety of opinion points. It is the strength and weakness of the medium and we should make sure not to give them the same criticism or the same skepticism that we give traditional media forms. They deserve their own standards completely. … and that is another blog post.