Monday Madness: Stop that Blogging!

I’m swamped with finals this week, and I have not the time to finish the Monday Madness post I planned for today. It will instead be posted next week. So please consider an article written by a professional who thinks that the news media needs to regulate blogging. Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars, David Hazinski writes Unfettered ‘citizen journalism’ too risky. Here are a few choice excerpts (actually, most of the article):

The premise of citizen journalism is that regular people can now collect information and pictures with video cameras and cellphones, and distribute words and images over the Internet. Advocates argue that the acts of collecting and distributing makes these people “journalists.” This is like saying someone who carries a scalpel is a “citizen surgeon” or someone who can read a law book is a “citizen lawyer.”

No, someone carrying a scalpel on the street – and performing emergency surgeries on the street in times of need – is a citizen surgeon. Duh.

So without any real standards, anyone has a right to declare himself or herself a journalist. Major media outlets also encourage it. Citizen journalism allows them to involve audiences, and it is a free source of information and video. But it is also ripe for abuse.

If he’s right the right to consider himself insightful, I’ve got the right to call myself a journalist. No actually, I’m a journalist whether or not he thinks he’s insightful. I have standards, I check sources, and this article of his is ripe with abuse. It would sound better coming from Kent Brockman.

False Internet rumors about Sen. Barack Obama attending a radical Muslim school became so widespread that CNN and other news agencies did stories debunking the rumors.

Yes, but one really big problem with “professional” journalists is that they too can spread false myths and rumors and still get paid. Many bloggers spend their time debunking those rumors. Remember the cell-phones killing off the honey bees? Bah.

Having just anyone produce widely distributed stories without control can have the reverse effect from what advocates intend. It’s just a matter of time before something like a faked Rodney King beating video appears on the air somewhere.

Yeah, like the fake claim of WMD. Boy am I glad the professionals checked their sources before repeating that claim…

Journalism organizations should head that off. Citizen reports can be a valuable addition to news and information flow with some protections:

• Major news organizations must create standards to substantiate citizen-contributed information and video, and ensure its accuracy and authenticity.

Yeah, it’s called calling them up, looking up the sources and reporting on them once you have something to report. Funny, it seems like he’s admitting that professional journalists will just cut and paste from blogs without doing research. That’s not true, and the idea that bloggers are this irresponsible mass of people is absurd.

• They should clarify and reinforce their own standards and work through trade organizations to enforce national standards so they have real meaning.

He should clarify the above sentence so it has real meaning. Individual bloggers have their own standards they keep, just like newspapers do. Truth is, you should cite sources to check your facts, and newspapers, radio, and TV don’t always get their facts straight.

• Journalism schools such as mine at the University of Georgia should create mini-courses to certify citizen journalists in proper ethics and procedures, much as volunteer teachers, paramedics and sheriff’s auxiliaries are trained and certified.

Ah hah ha ha! Give control of the blogs to meeeee! Actually, a voluntary program that carries with it a certification (like a tag you can put on your blog) doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all. First, please give journalistic lessons to Bill O’Reilly and then we’ll talk. Not unless I see a degree on his show at all times will I consider him anything remotely like a journalist.

Journalists generally don’t like any kind of standards or regulation. Many argue that standards could infringe on freedom of the press and journalism shouldn’t be regulated.

But we have already seen the line between news and entertainment blur enough to destroy significant credibility. Continuing to do nothing as information flow changes will further erode it. Journalism organizations who choose to do nothing may soon find the line between professional and citizen journalism gone as well as the trust of their audiences.

Faux News.

Ladies and Gentlemen, and people who haven’t yet made up their minds, don’t trust what I write because I write it. Trust me because I cite it. Trust media outlets that report news responsibly, and don’t give into the madness of restricting the free speech and freedom of the press that our country guarantees. David Hazinski doesn’t seem to understand that “freedom of the press” was made at a time when someone could have a printing press in their basement and print out news rags for mass consumption, and no one could take that right away from them. In recent times, professional news organizations, responsible for much of the ‘infotainment’ that has Hazinski riled up (and misdirecting on bloggers), have come to control the “press,” and easy content management has restored it to the general public through blogging.

I wonder what Hazinski things about websites like Digg? Oh my god! Citizens deciding what is newsworthy? Preposterous! Only professionals can decide what people should hear!

I also wonder if his disdain for “citizen” journalism extends into “citizen-run encyclopedias”? What, you mean Wikipedia is filled with content by people who don’t have professional encyclopedia training? And it beats every other encyclopedia out there for accuracy and readability, despite its problems?

Finally, bloggers do have standards – some of them. For example, science bloggers are very good about writing original articles explaining research that has just come out, in a way that often surpasses ‘professional’ science journalists – because of their passion and expertise. And there’s now a science blogging standard for reporting on the results of peer-reviewed research. I haven’t used it yet, but when I write about peer-reviewed scientific research, I will flag those posts with the banner from this site: Blogging on Peer Reviewed Research.

The fact is, ‘professional’ journalists and certain bloggers are all journalists. Oftentimes, bloggers just comment on news articles, but particularly in the science blogging world, they may write original, expository, and meaningful articles about research and thoughtful op-eds on scientific issues.

There’s only one thing that’s unfettered, and it’s this guy’s grasp of the blogging world. First, get past the revulsion of the citizen journalist. Then, find good blogs to read. Next, help us figure out how to make blogging better at the same time that we try to make professional journalism better. Lastly, don’t bloviate about restricting blogs or putting the news media in control of them – that’s just plain Madness. Thanks for reading.

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Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication. He is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar researching citrus genetics at UC Riverside.

3 thoughts on “Monday Madness: Stop that Blogging!”

  1. Thanks for writing. 🙂
    It was a really good post.
    (No idea what bioviate means though)
    If the standard of UK print journalism is anything to go by, it’s hard to think of any blogs that could actually make a worse job of it.
    David Hazinski’s efforts would be better spent teaching people to evaluate sources of information.

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  2. For a second, I was going to thank you for point out a mis-spelling, but I think you mis-spelled it. To “bloviate” is to speak pompously and excessively about a subject.

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  3. Great article.

    I would like to weigh in with an opinion on this issue; many people have become jaded with the infotainment that passes as journalism. We see it for what it is, and sometimes have more trust in independent news outlets (i.e. blogs) than mainstream news outlets. TIme and time again we have been misled by people that we believe are “journalists”, but in reality are only paid spokespeople for corporations that treat “news” as a saleable commodity (or in more sinister cases, a commodity for sale).

    This sort of “news” would be known as social engineering, if we were honest about it. We free-thinkers are naturally repulsed by this sort of stuff, even if it’s for reasons that we don’t conciously understand. For us, independent news outlets are more reliable, more trustworthy and more truthful. (disclaimer: This of course depends on choosing the news outlet wisely. That depends on intelligence and critical thought. Sounds like valuable and necessary life skills to me anyways.)

    Regards, -jf

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