One of the perennial questions about the role of blogging and bloggers in the evolving media landscape is what standards for responsibility, accountability and ethics one can expect from them. The matter, basically, is one of credibility. The argument is often framed as a comparison of the relative reliability of traditional – pre-internet, if you will – news media and their contributors, with that of the blogosphere and bloggers. Proponents of traditional media often argue that the formal structures and processes for gathering, vetting, and delivering news, information and opinion provide the kind of quality control for their “product” that one cannot expect from the fast-and-loose, editor-less world of blogging.
Having worked in both media to some extent – my first reaction to such discussions or arguments is frustration. Any discussion that frames this as a pure “either-or” proposition is not dealing with reality; no single medium operates in a vacuum; the media for the collection and dissemination of information interact with each other, and always have.
The days of news papers as sole providers of that service are gone. Even before the internet, radio and television played a complementary role to print media. News of coups, riots, earthquakes and other events – very often broken by media outlets such as BBC World service, CCN and so on. These have come to play a very integral role in the lives of a lot of people around the world. We often find out about changes in government and acts of God from these news services. The next day, newspapers fill in the picture with news, views, and interviews. In the same way, blogs (and other related tools such as micro-blogging services like twitter) now extend the spectrum of information media to an even more immediate level.
Of course, it is the more inclusive nature of blogging that is really being alluded to above that is often the root of much more of the critique of blogging. The point made is that since anybody and his dog can start a blog and start “reporting” and expressing opinions, we should not trust anything that is posted on a blog. I exaggerate the starkness of that argument, but that is what it bolls down to.
The main argument, as it is more soberly made, is that traditional news media organizations have a structure in place for researching, confirming, and double-checking information before it becomes the part of the public record; the implication being that blogs don’t and therefore their content is by definition is of lower quality and less credible. As I see it, there are two problems with that picture.
Firstly, while bloggers may not have a staff of editors and fact checkers, blogs live on a very tight feedback loop and have to compete in a very competitive ecosystem where any mistakes are almost instantaneously noticed and are mercilessly debunked or validated. The only major “scandals” involving fake content on blogs that have a wide readership have been in the US. For example, “Lonely Girl 15” briefly became a Hugh phenomenon – till it was discovered that the person putting out a detailed look at her life was not a real lonely girl but an actress performing for professionally-produced videos. On the other hand, every year, one or two major newspapers in the US have had to own up about writers who had fabricated stories.
The blogosphere and other “new media” have added a new dimension to the media landscape, with a whole new set of strengths and weaknesses. As both old and new media have to share the information collection landscape and compete for audiences, they will have to work out what roles they will play in this brave new world – and how they will check and balance each other.
Sohail Qaisar is a professional writer from GamesHT.com, where he shares informative reviews, previews and articles related to video games, hardware and technology. Checkout his review on Nokia N9 Mobile.