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Which reporting can we trust?

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September 29, 2005

Which reporting can we trust?

Stephen Baker

What's the role of bloggers as reporters? This was a central question yesterday at a discussion featuring top bloggers and media editors and execs at New York's Museum of TV and Radio. Jay Rosen told a story.

It was about the blogger Joshua Marshall. After House Republicans moved in a voice vote to change a rule to protect Rep. Tom Delay, Marshall put out the word on his blog that people should contact their Republican reps and press them on how they voted. In the end, Marshall, working with The Daily DeLay, blogged the results.

Rosen's point? Mainstream media wasn't covering the story. A blogger did, using the vast network of citizen reporters. But how reliable was the reporting, media execs asked. Who were their sources? How about if one of the citizen reporters had it in for one of the Republicans?

I didn't add my two cents on that point at the meeting. Here it is now: As a reader, I'm happy to look at that citizens' reporting. It's additive. There was nothing. Now there's something. True, the anonymous reporters are not accountable for their work. So I wouldn't cite it, journalistically, as evidence that a certain Republican voted one way or another.

But there are many ways we glean information in this world. This is one of them, and it's welcome. We hear news all the time from friends and colleagues about our towns, our schools, our bosses. We weigh the information based on the reliability of our sources. Some are utterly trustworthy, most quite a bit less. With bloggers, our circle of contacts grows exponentially, and we have to sort out what to believe.

The world doesn't put information into neat boxes for us. Each one of us is an editor. It's up to us to divide the information we come across into three piles: I've heard, I believe, I know.

More on yesterday's meeting from David Weinberger.

07:38 AM

mainstream media

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and yet the line between blogging and mainstream media is getting blurrier. i have less faith in all of it.

i?? not qualified to be my own editor or fact-checker, so i pay the $4.95 cover price for you to do it for me.

Posted by: schadenfreudisch at September 29, 2005 12:29 PM

Yes, hopefully, you can place much of BW's content into that bucket of things that you "know." But the information you pay (and, hopefully, trust) is a tiny percentage of everything you hear and read. That's the part we all have to edit for ourselves.

Posted by: steve baker at September 29, 2005 01:36 PM

To: Stephen Baker/David Weinberger

It is interesting that neither one of you published any links to any of those MSM folks. And it is doubly interesting that you, Steve, did not add your two cents at the meeting.

The answer for MSM is very, very simple. MSM needs to recognize the we now have the ability for two-way conversation. This means that each and every entity that deals with the public will need to establish a mechanism to handle public responses. The days of big black holes (letter to the editor) are over.

The logical answer is a managed, measured off-line forum. Here's the sequence:

My off-line index (RSS?) for the current issue of Business Week indicates that Stephen Baker has written an article on Blogging, which I retrieve along with any previous comments. After reading the article, I want to respond to something Steve said, so I check the comments and see that someone else had the same thought, and Steve responded to that comment. I now have some choices available. I can start a new thread, I can add to the existing thread, or I can relax because the thought has been expressed.

Managed means that someone is reading the postings and responding. Obviously, Steve can't devote the time to respond to everyone, and that isn't necessary, cause others will. Someone should be reading all postings for obvious reasons, but that person should flag postings for Steve's attention.

Measured means tabulating response time, purpose, attitude, number of posts, etc.

The point is that MSM can drain off the motivation behind the blogging that can cause them any serious trouble. The rest they can ignore. Obviously, they might get scooped once in a while, but I would be willing to bet that most potential journalists would be happy to forward a story to the MSM -- if the response was proper.

It's kind of like this post -- I've sent the idea to Steve several times via direct e-mail -- but he doesn't seem to want to follow through.

Doug Skoglund -

Posted by: Doug Skoglund at September 30, 2005 04:16 AM

Just a word about why I didn't throw in my two cents on that subject: There were about 20 of us around the table, so there were no shortage of voices. It took me some thinking after the get-together before I thought I had anything to contribute on the subject.

Why didn't Weinberger and I link to the MSM people? What should we link to, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, CNN? The mainstream people who were there--Managing editor Paul Steiger of the WSJ, CBS news president Andrew Heyward, etc etc. don't blog. So there's nothing specific to link to.

Posted by: steve baker at September 30, 2005 07:33 AM

And please note your ability to pick and choose precisely what you will respond to.

Interesting; however, you very nicely skipped over the main point, thus effectively exersized your power as host to effectively censor the balance of my message.

In other words, you are doing exactly what the MSM does. selectively ignore those things that they don't want to talk about.

Oh, that's right -- you are part of the MSM. sorry.

Posted by: Doug Skoglund at September 30, 2005 08:42 AM

If I don't respond to every single point in a comment, it's censorship?

Posted by: steve baker at September 30, 2005 11:43 AM

Mr. Baker,

You're probably predisposed to paying attention to bloggers in the first place, given the blog you write.

The MSM needs to worry more about why anyone trusts them, and worry about bloggers' credibility only insofar as they're willing to cite them. The Times, CBS, the AP, any number of MSM outlets simply don't bother to check facts the way they claim.

Another point is that many reporters who use blogs as a source don't really understand them. Out here in Denver, the Post radio columnist cited a month-old blog posting about the Air America scandal in order to dismiss it. As you know, the blog cycle is a little shorter than that.

Finally, many of the MSM outlets themselves rely on anonymous sources, which has led them into a great deal of trouble recently.

I've always felt that the best blogs were opinion journalism. They disclose their biases, back up their facts, but also realize that good reporters have practices (such as multiple sourcing) and ethical guidelines that we can learn from. The problem with the MSM isn't that those practices are wrong, it's that they're too often ignored.

Posted by: Joshua Sharf at September 30, 2005 12:15 PM

You're right that most news outlets don't have extensive fact-checking operations. Maybe a few do, but at every place I've worked, including BW, the reporter is responsible for fact-checking. We have editors who will ask questions if something doesn't look right or make sense. We have so-called red-dotters who check the spelling of names and titles of of the people and companies we mention. But except for that, it's up to us.

Posted by: steve baker at September 30, 2005 12:25 PM

While not censorship in the common definition, ignoring the obvious point of a message has the same total effect as cennsorship as it has a tendency to kill any further discussion. Most comment posters will only pursue subjects of interest to the host.

Posted by: Doug Skoglund at September 30, 2005 03:19 PM

"But how reliable was the reporting, media execs asked. Who were their sources? How about if one of the citizen reporters had it in for one of the Republicans?"

I find it kind of hard to take this question seriously given that one of the media execs in question is still paying Dan Rather's salary.

Posted by: ralph phelan at September 30, 2005 04:07 PM

I know you aren't there, yet, Stephen, but you may end up where I did in comment threads: advising those who need it that the bias discourse is making them dumber by the day.

It was good to see you at the roundtable. Thanks for this.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 1, 2005 09:57 AM

As the late, great A.J. Liebling pointed out, "Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one." Blogging and online journalism has given new meaning to this.

I guess blogging is teaching us that from the greatest of main stream horrors - hard core irony is seldom absent ... Indeed, indeed, how reliable is the main stream press?

Amen and Awomen ;-)

Posted by: Jozef Imrich at October 1, 2005 10:06 AM

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