Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Blogging and Journalism

Bloggers have a tendency to take themselves seriously as news sources and opinion-influencers. Yesterday, I received a phone call that reminded me of the distinction between bloggers and real journalists.

Dan Margolies of the Star called and inquired about whether I had support for my premise for Monday's post about Kobach teaching immigration, like a published class schedule or something. In other words, did I have a reliable source for the simple proposition that he is scheduled to teach that course? And the answer was no - I received an email from someone I don't personally know, telling me that Kobach is scheduled to teach Immigration Law in the Spring Semester. I did think about whether the information was true when I wrote my post, but it sounded right, since he is a professor at UMKC and knows a fair amount of immigration law. And, besides, I figured that I would probably hear from someone if it turned out to be false, and I could just put an update on my piece correcting the information, and probably including something snarky for good measure.

That's one of the differences between a blogger and a journalist. Carefully checking facts and getting reliable and verifiable sources is hard work, and good journalists do it every day. God knows how many good and true stories wind up not making it into print because they could not be verified properly by a good journalist. I'd love to know just a fraction of the true stories that Dan Margolies has tucked in his brain about the Kansas City legal community - stories he did not publish because they did not meet his standards of journalism.

I am not a journalist. I admire journalists and appreciate their work - and get angry when they do it poorly. Their insistence on getting to primary facts and checking them out goes miles beyond what I and most bloggers do most of the time, which is to find something on the internet and run with it if it sounds right.

Bloggers who take themselves seriously and consider themselves "citizen journalists" need a reality check. Unless you're doing the ground level development of sources and documentation, you are playing at journalism. The phone call I received yesterday was a friendly reminder that real journalists work on an entirely different level.

I want this blog to be fun and thought-provoking, and an outlet for occasional creative flashes. I'll use it to gather news from various sources. But, please, never make the mistake of thinking that this site is real journalism. I happily leave that job to the professionals.

17 Comments:

Anonymous travelingal said...

According to the cite I used in the previous post, he said he is a Professor of Constitutional and Immigration Law. He didn't say where. BTW it wasn't me.

9/27/2006 8:59 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Don't be so hard on yourself. I thought your September 22nd post was pretty darn good! :-)

TKC calls his blog an "opinion source." I think that's pretty accurate. No need to fact check an opinion!

9/27/2006 9:19 AM  
Blogger emawkc said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9/27/2006 9:56 AM  
Blogger emawkc said...

Sorry Dan, but I respectfully disagree. I think we should all strive to be as responsible as possible whether we're journalists or not.

9/27/2006 10:24 AM  
Blogger Xavier Onassis said...

emaw said "I think we should all strive to be as responsible as possible whether we're journalists or not".

I disagree. My blog is my forum to say whatever the hell I want. Says so right on the label.

If I think that GWB is a blithering idiot, a posturing fool, a wannabe who got lucky, or a limp-dick, coked-out, alcoholic frat boy who should have never been elected to an office higher than dog catcher, I'll say so.

I'm not a journalist. I'm a citizen. On a really GOOD day (like if Tony gives me a shout) I might get 50 visits.

And although I cherish everyone of those visits, they do not impose an obligation on my part to carefully research everything I post and ensure that it is factually correct. That would really cut into my monkey-spanking time and I just won't allow that.

Speaking of which...gotta go!

9/27/2006 6:34 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

emawkc - I'm trying to be polite, but what in the hell are you talking about? Do you check facts for every post you do? Did you visit that New Hampshire town and talk to the people involved in the nudist controversy before you wrote about it recently? Did you hook them up to lie detectors? That might be somewhat closer to your standard of being as "responsible as possible". Or did you just link to something you found on the internet?

Did you do background checking on the inspirational father pulling his son around? Or did you just rely on an email of uncertain origin?

We're bloggers, my friend. Even you.

9/27/2006 7:05 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Just because I'm a blogger, and not a journalist, doesn't make my writings any less important. You make bloggers sound like some degrading, bastardized version of a journalist. Someone who couldn't quite hack it for the Star, and is reduced to writing about their daily bowel habits on their blog.

Everyone's personal writings on things, is history, as we perceive it. If we were to only read the Star, and believe everything it printed, our views would be sorely one-demensional.

As for checking facts...even journalists get it wrong. Just ask Dan Rather.

Journalists write to cater to the masses...to sell newspapers, get ratings, etc. Bloggers, for the most part, do it because of a love of writing. As for me, I'd rather read what normal folks like me have to say, as opposed to someone who panders to a political agenda.

9/27/2006 10:12 PM  
Blogger Xavier Onassis said...

I will personally volunteer to "fact check" any stories about publicly nude females in New Hampshire or anywhere else for bloggers wishing to be "responsible".

My travel expenses, per diem, and miscelleneous expenses are negotiable.

Have your people contact my people.

I will be happy to provide photographic evidence of my due diligence.

9/27/2006 10:31 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Why am I not surprised?

9/27/2006 10:54 PM  
Blogger emawkc said...

Surely you see the difference between providing a link and then commenting on it and making up a "fact" and then commenting on it.

In the post in question, you state that UMKC is having Koback teach immigration law (no link provided). You didn't state that it's your opinion that he is teaching immigration law, or that you heard he was teaching immigration law.

Frankly, I believed you when you said he was teaching immigraion law. Now, it turns out that maybe he's not and all of a sudden I have to do my own research?1?

Hey, you have the right to post anything you want. I'm just saying that it seem like bad form to make up a "fact" and then comment on it.

(By the way, I think it was a Vermont town with the nude teens.)

9/27/2006 10:58 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

XO - You are the wind beneath my wings.

Heather - I don't think we really disagree. I've been blogging for years - I get a lot of joy out of it, and I know some readers appreciate what I do. But the point of my post is simply that what I do is not real journalism.

Perhaps I should clarify what I mean by real journalism. Real journalism is when the news section gets its facts right through rigorous reporting. I can't think of any bloggers who really do that - source-checking, documenting, etc. Bloggers do more of an editors and editorialists job. We assemble stories that meet our own standards of credibility, and we comment on what others are reporting. There's certainly value in that - and that's what I enjoy and think I'm pretty good at - but it's not what I think of as real journalism. Real journalism starts with primary sources.

Emawkc - I didn't make up a fact - I was informed by someone that he is teaching Immigration Law, and I am willing to bet heavily that he is currently scheduled to do so. He's a professor at the school, he claims to be an immigration law professor, it fits into his political persona, and the law school prefers not to use adjunct professors generally. Those four facts plus a tip add up to pretty convincing evidence that Kobach is slated to teach Immigration Law next semester, but the schedule won't be published until 10/9. To me, that's enough to publish on my blog, though Margolies, a professional journalist working for a real paper, needed more.

Bloggers, yourself definitely included, tend to use a personalized sliding scale of accuracy, depending on the nature of the facts being proposed. If you're posting an inspirational story about a father running for his son, for example, you might accept an email of uncertain origin as sufficient, since there's no real harm if you're wrong. If you're going to post something giving someone's name and address and claiming that he molests children, though, I expect you would use a higher level of scrutiny than relying on an email of uncertain origin. Even ignoring the real threat of a libel suit, you just wouldn't do that.

Your suggestion that I should have started the second sentence of my post with "I've heard that" . . . "UMKC, while working on the one hand to reduce racial tensions and minority feelings of exclusion, is having none other than Kris "2000 mile wall" Kobach teach Immigration Law at the School of Law" is a good one - if I were a journalist, maybe I'd have an editor to come up with such suggestions.

9/28/2006 7:01 AM  
Blogger emawkc said...

Fair enough, Dan. FWIW, I really didn't have a problem with your original post. My only contention is that everyone -- blogger, journalist or other -- should strive to be as responsible as possible.

Who knew that would be so controversial?

Oh, and I'll hapily edit any of your post if you want to send them to me before you post them. ;-)

9/28/2006 9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan:
As the person who sent you the email in the first place, I can assure you that I did verify with more than one high-ranking staff member that the school is offering the course and is in fact intending to have Kobach teach the class before I sent the email to you. Although the professional journalist needs cold, hard facts obtained firsthand to ensure his paycheck keeps coming, and although knowing that I verified it may not change your feelings where your writing is concerned, you are not promoting a false rumor.

Regardless of what I think of Kobach's politics, by associating themselves with Kobach's stance on Immigration, I think the law school is making an enormous error that could have a long term effect on the University's reputation. The longer we put off discussing the issue the harder and more painful it will be to change course.

(And your post made me laugh.)

9/28/2006 2:49 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

Since this is the ur-blog of this particular discussion, I'll post here what I posted over at JD's place -- with full disclosure that, while I blog, I'm also an editor at the Lawrence Journal-World.

•••••••••••••
Strictly as a legal matter, I don’t think the courts would recognize a difference between blogging and other media — though I’m not sure this has actually been tested. If you’re publishing (and you are) and you’ve got those 100 hits a day, you’re media.

Which means that you’re probably subject to all the same libel and slander laws that apply to the Journal-World or the KC Star; the standard for proving libel or slander in court is tougher if you’re a public figure like Kris Kobach — but big media organizations have libel insurance AND money to pay lawyers in the event of such suits. I mean no disrespect to suggest that Dan, Emaw, Tony or anybody else in the Kansas-Kansas City blogosphere probably don’t possess the same resources as bigger media companies, in that regard.

That’s not to say that blogs shouldn’t do much of what they do; but when they venture into original reporting of a sort — and that, it appears to me, is what Dan was doing — then I’d urge all of you to do it, but to do it cautiously. For your own sake.
••••••••••••••••

I should distinguish between reporting -- the gathering and dissemination of facts -- and commentary. The second has far fewer legal hangups, so long as you don't, in the process, slander or libel.

Not trying to get into an argument here; just offering what I hope will be useful information.

9/28/2006 2:53 PM  
Blogger les said...

Hey, your discussion touched another chord--http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2006/09/citizen_journalism.php I think it's a good discussion; although I didn't get the sense that some apparently did that Dan is attaking or trivializing bloggers, just that there's a difference--based on style, content, intent--between the level of due diligence needed/obligated in different settings. None of that goes to the worth or importance of the different venues. As a consumer of bloggism and journalism, I value both--but look to them for different things; but know that, at different times and places, they may be the same thing.

9/28/2006 3:21 PM  
Blogger Xavier Onassis said...

Dan wrote "If you're posting an inspirational story about a father running for his son, for example, you might accept an email of uncertain origin as sufficient, since there's no real harm if you're wrong. If you're going to post something giving someone's name and address and claiming that he molests children, though, I expect you would use a higher level of scrutiny than relying on an email of uncertain origin."

I'd accept that as a good rule of thumb for "journalistic integrity".

But lets face it folks, with very few exceptions, we ain't journalists. We are cut-and-paste opinionators. From a journalistic point of view, most of us (myself especially) make Matt Drudge look like Edward R. Murrow.

Never take yourself too seriously.

9/28/2006 7:29 PM  
Blogger Xavier Onassis said...

Joel - You raise an interesting point.

I tend to think of my blog as a diary of my rants that just happens to be accessible by the general public. I'll say the same things, about the same subjects whether anyone reads me or not. I don't care. I don't take myself seriously and I don't expect anyone else to.

But then I clicked on your blog. My first reaction was "professional blogger, professional site, MEDIA."

I don't mean that in a negative way. I'm just saying that I think the courts should look at the nature and intent of a site before passing judgement.

I'm just a rambling asshole free-associating and saying whatever he wants. You, on the other hand, are a Media Outlet, IMHO.

9/28/2006 7:43 PM  

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