Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Caveat Lector

M.C. Escher, "Drawing Hands" (1948)

What is impartiality, and where can this wily creature be found? Are newspapers impartial in their reporting? Network television? Cable television [shudder]?

And what about bloggers?

The latest flap I keep reading about is the danger of unregulated blogging. The gist is that people may read lies in blogs but assume that they are true, the end result being a misinformed public that doesn’t understand the world around them and votes for the most convincing liars. Which isn’t so different from the way the world has always been.

Blogs are, almost by definition, personal assertions about the world we live in. Most blogs, including Toner Mishap, are for entertainment only, and not for internal use. Avoid contact with the eyes and open wounds. If redness or irritation occurs, discontinue use. Seriously – bloggers yell and scream to get your attention, and they rant and complain to keep your attention. (Or is it the other way around?) Or they talk about the evidence of their kids’ genius, or what their cats did...

What’s my beef? I think it’s crazy to talk about regulating blogs to help out those who can’t distinguish between fact and fiction. It’s similar to the Vatican’s uproar over The Da VInci Code; the Pope and his cronies are concerned that this novel (fiction, for those of you who have forgotten) is lying to people about Catholicism, and that the humble flock who encounter the book may lose their faith. People encounter both fact and fiction in their lives, and should learn to tell the difference. (And if your faith is so tenuous as to be damaged by a novel, then I can’t help you out.) So let’s get over this need to have Big Brother tell us what to read and what to believe.

That said, blogs can become as reputable as traditional media. There are, to my mind, a number of ways in which we, the people, can learn to trust the words of any writer or publicatoin, be it in ink or pixels:

1. If you do something long enough, people will view you as a reliable source. Example: The Gray Lady. Of course, it is still to be determined whether you are a reliable source of truth or lies.

2. If you lie, you are liable. Libel laws apply to everyone, and anyone who gets sued a lot and loses such cases a lot will not be trusted. Example: tabloids.

3. If you blog in the forest and no one hears, does it matter? Get readership, get links, and get referrals. The more people read you, the more people will read you.

So what about regulating blogs so that people know whom they can trust? We don’t do that for traditional media, and nonetheless people seem to catch on. When a cable news station claims to be fair and balanced but proves otherwise, people understand that a bias is at work. The same will prove out with blogs.

Let’s sum this up. If you want people to believe you, tell the truth, and keep telling it; eventually people will trust you, and then you’re on you’re on your way to Woodward and Bernstein-style fame and fortune. Unless you’re just trying to pick a fight – you can get started on that right now.


Kevin Church said...

The idea of "balanced journalism" of any sort is, of course, an invention of the second half of the twentieth century. One merely needs to look at New York City (in the present as well as the past) to see how newspapers wrote/still write to their audience with their agendas proudly displayed. I have gotten to the point where the mention of "balance" in journalism raises my hackles - speak subjectively, don't lie, and make sure that the audience knows that you have a point of view.

Anything else is disingenuous on the part of the bloggers or journalists.

The Misanthrope said...

I believe that one can report news without bias. Will two reporters have slightly different stories of the same event? Sure. Just as two eye witnesses may have different versions of what they have seen. There is no conscience bias, just the mere fault of being human.

My person slant is in favor of the working class who are always stepped on because corporations and governments can easily control/bully them.

B2 said...

As long as we're on the topic, I prefer journalists who rake muck, dig dirt, and reveal the seamy underbelly of society -- as long as it leads to improvement and betterment of society.

Me said...

I actually agree with the comic nerd there - as we get more readers, people start taking what we say to heart - to believe it.

That's why I'm quite clear that when I report or opine on something it's simply either my opinion or my sarcasm. I make it quite clear you don't want to get your news from Hector Vex, you just want to get your twisted take on the news.

But when I report it, I link to the source and I don't change the story. Some bloggers & journalists simply give their take without citing the source or quoting the true story, this is where the line blurs and misinformation begins.