I am obviously a big fan of blogs and blogging, and spend an inordinate amount of time every week reading blogs, commenting upon blogs, writing original content and managing my own weblogs. However, while there are lots of great characteristics of blogs and, collectively, the blogosphere, I have always had reservations about blogs as a news medium.
With its recent, false story about a major power outage in a San Francisco data center being caused by an intoxicated employee Valleywag — an avowed gossip site anyway — really does demonstrate why blogs aren’t a great place for news and why there might just be some value to journalists and their formal journalistic training in a completely digital age.
As related by Valleywag writer Owen Thomas, the story started with a power outage coupled with an anonymous instant message being received that suggested a salacious reason, one that certainly would make for good buzz. If only it had been true.
In journalism school, you would never even think about sharing any gossip of this nature without at least two reliable sources, but that never stopped Owen, nor did it stop other bloggers from picking up the incendiary story and shining a very negative light on the Web server hosting company in question. (You’ll note that I am not mentioning the company involved. They’ve gotten enough bad publicity at this point. In a few weeks I might come back and add a link here, but for now, let’s let the dust settle. The fact is, any outage of any sort is a critical problem for a hosting company and that’s what they need to focus their energy upon, not worrying about bad publicity and its fallout with their client base)
If this were an isolated incident, I’d just chalk it up to youthful enthusiasm at Valleywag, but I see far too much of this in the blogosphere, this “shooting from the hip” journalistic style where even the most outlandish gossip and rumor is ripe for the reporting. You name a truly popular blog and do your homework; just about all of them fall victim to the siren song of getting the news out first, even if it’s wrong.
Indeed, it’s become such an entrenched part of blogging culture that you’ll hear bloggers actually defend this shoddy practice by saying that blogging is superior to traditional journalism because bloggers publish retractions when they get things wrong, as Owen has done over at Valleywag.
Maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t it be better to be a day late on the story and get the facts right?
This is one big reason I don’t read any political blogs too: if the business and tech bloggers play this fast and loose with the facts, I can only imagine — with horror — the kind of slander and innuendo that must be a daily occurrence on the political, news commentary and opinion blogosphere.
I know that I’m glad I get my news from sites like The Wall Street Journal (yes, I pay for my annual access), The New York TimesGoogle News, which neatly aggregates the latest across hundreds of reputable, journalistic sites that seek to retain some integrity and accuracy across their reporting.
Of course, it’s also possible that I’m a dinosaur, destined for extinction in a world where being fast is more important than being accurate. Heck, isn’t that the core appeal of daft services like Twitter and Pownce after all? Speed over everything else, including privacy and accuracy?