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Amateur bloggers and more gnashing of journalistic teeth

Huge blow-up in the blogosphere as Fred Wilson criticizes some bloggers that were previously Main Stream Media (MSM) reporters and now work for blogs as professional bloggers.  Michael Arrington then twitters that Fred is the guy with his facts wrong, followed by a blast of TechCrunch vitriole.  Then Fred says, “aren’t blogs great” and dismisses the argument.

In my mind, the real question here is when do you set varying standards for fact checking.  One good comment in Fred’s blog that I liked a lot hinted at this simple distinction: “Amateur bloggers blog about what they do, Professional bloggers blog for their job.”

This is a critical distinction from some other implied definitions.  Fred implied that people whose blog ranks highly on things like TechMeme have an obligation to get their facts straight.  That is like saying that if lots of people are listening then you should make sure you aren’t lying.  While not bad in principle, that would put people like Perez Hilton, Rush Limbaugh, or George Bush potentially out of business.

If everyone reads Fred Wilson’s blog, does he have an obligation to fact-check?  Does he have an obligation to run his material by an editor?  Not a chance.  If 30458730457 people read this blog tomorrow, do I have an obligation to temper my instincts to “flame on” when I read something I don’t like?

My day is too short and I don’t get paid enough to fact-check my incorrect and potentially libelous flame war material (as indicated by numerous comments on my blog in the past, doh).

As a commenter pointed out, I think the far more dicey operations are sites like TechCrunch where they have paid editors and tons of conflicts of interest, only sometimes disclosed.  Do they have a real editorial infrastructure?  It seems to me like sites like these are in some ways a throwback to the original Hearst publications era where all of the editorial and news was slanted by the views of the ownership.  Few look back on those days as journalistic moments of pride or as a time of particularly accurate reporting.

Unfortunately, the amateurs vs professionals distinction has shades of gray unrecognized by the simple interpretation above.

Did Arrington ask us to read TechCrunch?  Nope.  So while it is a money-making operation, can it be held to the same standard as a publication that charges us to read it like a magazine or newspaper?   Is Arrington supposed to be held to a higher standard because so many of us read his rants that he hired people to write rants for him full-time (… and we kept reading!)?  Is he supposed to be held to a higher standard because he doesn’t donate his revenue to charity?  Is he supposed to be held to a higher standard because he is a better writer or has a background as a professional writer?

To me, none of these things seem like they create an obligation.  We can go read other news sources.  The commitment to maintaining a certain level of journalistic integrity is something that blogs can use to differentiate themselves in the market.

Hmmm, one takeaway from all this is that I am no journalistic ethics guy.  Funny how that works.

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