Since I joined Blogcritics, I’m disturbed by how many times lately I’ve seen myself and other bloggers treated as official sources, journalists, people whose opinions carry weight because they are posted on the Internet. And when I read misinformation in a post taken as truth, I get angry not so much at the blogger, but at the reader who can’t tell the difference.
I have opinions. I research. I write. As a blogger, as opposed to a journalist, there is no gatekeeper checking the accuracy of my facts or rationality of my opinions. Blogging offers a direct link from writer to reader, and I could write a post on what a wonderful opportunity that is for both sides, but this rant is about the danger of accepting anything I or my fellow bloggers say as truth without evaluation. And we all know – or should know – that even edited and published journalists can’t be taken as absolute purveyors of truth.
Despite having said as little as six months ago that I couldn’t see the appeal of blogging, I take this seriously. I have some basis for my opinions. I’ve been a newspaper editor, freelance writer, non-profit public relations person. My present day job is in corporate communications for a health care organization. In those roles, I’ve been exposed to topics from Mexican entertainment and culture, municipal tree bylaws, cancer, hospital administration, knitting, and much more. But I’m an expert in none of them.
I also have fun with blogging. My oh-so-useful English literature degree and lone film studies class help me shape my opinions into critiques, and I was a staff reviewer for DVD Verdict and wrote reviews for the newspaper where I was an editor. I love movies, television, and books, both the content and the industries that create them. But I’m not an insider.
The Internet presents us with instant information, from reliable and unreliable sources. I am an unreliable source. Most of what we read on the Internet is, but there are clues to spotting the unreliable.
Anonymity is a big tip off, said the hypocritical blogger who goes by a pseudonym. But then I’ve already said I’m no expert, and my anonymity, designed to separate the Googleable work me from the personal me, is imperfect. I stand behind my opinions. My name just stands a little further back.
Lack of sources is another clue. Where is the writer getting the facts? And if the opinion isn’t based on fact, it’s not worth any more than my Magic Eight Ball’s opinions.
Checking those sources is important. Conspiracy theorists might not trust the typical reliable sources, but look at the reputation of the organization putting out the information. The Mayo Clinic is likely a better source of information about a drug than a pharmaceutical company, for example, and far better than one person complaining she took the medicine once and it gave her hives. Then use the gut feeling test to check the correlation between the facts and the opinion – in your now-informed opinion, is the author’s take on the issue reasonable?
So please, don’t believe something just because I tell you to. Unless I tell you that my favourite colour is blue. And even then, skepticism is a good thing.
(Cross posted to Blogcritics.)
– Fox Mulder
You make some really good points and it sort of goes along with what Hugh Hewitt wrote in his book on the subject that credibility is a really important asset that you don’t want to throw away. If a blogger gets something wrong (as everyone does) it’s important to correct it loudly.
People build reputations over time of whether they are credible or not. This is true in the world of normal journalism as well. I don’t think it should be so much “Trust no one” as “Trust but verify.”
That is probably more true in the blogosphere, but it certainly applies to the world of print and TV media as well. Ask Jayson Blair and Dan Rather.
Thanks Tony. The quote was tongue in cheek, but I don’t think trust should be our default in the blogosphere because of the openness of the forum to any monkey with a computer. It’s a great thing for freedom of expression and thought-provoking conversation, but not so great when people can’t tell the difference between an expert and a monkey, or what lies between.
There’s a lot to be said about credibility and the lack of it in traditional journalism, and I might tackle my small-scale perspective on that another day. You’ve pointed out two of the recent big examples.
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