Friday, June 12, 2009

Truth, accuracy and the new media way

Like almost everyone who follows the media, I have been fascinated by the recent dust up from the NY Times attack on bloggers and their propensity to report on rumor as fact. And like most others, I find the proposition of reporters disparaging their competition a little dicey. It smacks of self interest. Even people with the best of intentions have trouble remaining impartial when their livelihood is on the line.

But the NY Times wouldn't print it if it were not true, right?

Not according to TechCrunch's Michael Arrington, who uses his microphone to slam the NY Times for shoddy reporting on this story. Arrington makes some great points, especially when he points out where the NY Times was flat out wrong.

Here's the problem for the NY Times, if they hope to make it in whatever the future holds for major American newspapers, all they have to stand on is their credibility. In light of the Jayson Blair scandal and a relentless conservative movement to paint the publication as a dishonest messenger, the paper's image has been badly tarnished.

And yet according to Editor and Publisher Magazine, the publication's online readership has grown. As of March 2009, the paper saw a seven percent year-over-year increase to about 20.1 million unique visitors. If newspapers are the first draft of history, over 20 million people think the Times does pretty good on the first take.

Despite Arrington's accurate objections to the NY Times piece about him, where there is smoke there is fire and bloggers have been taking liberties with the truth. Truth and accuracy, it seems, are the causalities of the rise of new media.

So what's next? I think Marc Hausman has it right in his blog post on the changing of the journalistic guard, new media and old line journalism will come closer together. The Arrington vs. NY Times dust up proves how much influence both outlets have.

But I also think if bloggers don't try to get it right most of the time, they will turn into unread side shows. I think Jeff Jarvis's commentary about this tiff is spot on:

To quote Gawker founder Nick Denton, when we put up “half-baked posts” we are saying to our public: Here’s what we know, here’s what we don’t know, what do you know. I believe it is critical to clearly label that, giving caveats and context. The same is true of 24-hour cable news, where the viewer must become the editor, understanding the difference between what is known now and what what can be confirmed later (see: the West Virgina mining disaster). In short: We who publish must learn how to say what we don’t know at least as well as we say what we know.

Look, even the National Enquirer tells the truth now, but with their history they have trouble conquering the sniff test. So when they get a big story right, like the John Edwards affair, no one believes them or really cares.

Bloggers don't want to end up in that camp.


Tony Mackey said...

Good post Tony. I'm looking forward to reading more. But, one quick point don't consider high readership with an endorsement of the truth.

"over 20 million people think the Times does pretty good on the first take."

Remember millions of us also read the National Enquirer and watch wrestling. We know its not real, but we watch / read it anyway.


Michael said...

I have no problems with the NY Times. Like most human endevours it is subject to errors, hubris, etc. However, after having lived in several cities along the east coast I will say the Times is a quality product - try getting your news from the Baltimore Sun for a month and you'll see my point. The true test for me is when they are caught being sloppy is what their repsonse is. I highly doubt a Jason Blair situation would arise again.

As for bloggers - I take whatever they say with a grain of salt. In this new frontier, much of what they report has an agenda. If they are upfront about it - cool. But if they let the facts get in the way of "reporting" then all we really have is a another version of FOX News. And I cannot stomach that.

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