When Those Pesky Blogs Undermine NPR News

The appeal of the blogs? Humor seems to be the biggest attraction. Ironic detachment from the news, an ability to deflate egos and refreshing, undisguised opinion are also valued. All are antithetical to most news organizations.

American newspapers traditionally and scrupulously segregate fact-based reporting from opinion by designating pages for each. Radio and television try to ensure that opinion remains secondary to reporting. Conclusions should be drawn warily. Bloggers tend not to care if they, and their readers conflate opinion and fact. It’s part of the appeal of the blogosphere.

As news organizations fight to regain their battered credibility and vanishing audiences, the blogs and the number of people who read them continue to grow. The blogs entertain, they provoke, and they are not constrained by journalistic standards of truth telling.

This is a challenge and a danger for journalism. —Jeffrey A. DvorkinWhen Those Pesky Blogs Undermine NPR News (NPR)

The issues extend beyond the world of journalism.

Dvorkin notes that “younger people find the Internet a more useful place, and a more nimble way to get their news,” but when he says ” blogosphere has proven once again to be an amoral place with few rules,” he misses the point. The internet is full of moral people, too. But because the mass broadcast media offers its audience only one meaningful way of personalizing its content (the on/off button), Dvorkin is thinking in monolithic terms.

He is right to note that there are instances where the public’s right to know does not supersede issues of national security, but the specific case he mentioned — the U.S. government issuing a redacted report that could be easily, trivially manipulated to reveal the redacted text — is itself a newsworthy story. Journalists are trained to understand that just because they discovered a name (or a fact) does not give them the moral justification to publish that name (or fact) in every circumstance. That’s because journalists are trained to think of the impact their work has on the general public. Bloggers, who may be writing for an imagined audience that consists only of peers, may simply not understand what it means to post a personal comment on their weblog.

A former student of mine from the University of Wisconsin, who started blogging for a class project and kept it up after she graduated the class and entered law school, kept detailing her escapades with alcohol and misadventures with boyfriends. I was often horrified to read of her exploits, but 1) they were funny and 2) they helped remind me that the “good students don’t drink too much, only bad students do” binary opposition I carried in my head was false. At any rate, when I last checked this student’s blog, she had removed all the entries and replaced them with a statement suggesting it was time for her to move on. I guess she doesn’t want future potential clients to Google her and read of her exploits.

This student wasn’t a journalist, but she named the names of her friends, not just herself. Presumably her friends have blogs that might mention her name.

Since more and more students are arriving at college already having blogged socially, it seems to me that part of freshman orientation should include a “be careful what you write” warning, along with “don’t walk home alone” and “don’t procrastinate.”