Citizen journalism can be a great thing by enabling anyone who wants a way to express themselves beyond their immediate friends, colleagues and family.
Yet one of the strengths of traditional journalism is training and judgment, and the need to source information. The old adage that traditional journalists heard at some point in their careers is that if your mother says she loves you, check it out. In other words, trust no one until you can get two sources to verify.
Blogging often seems about opinion, so fact checking sources gets little attention. And because of the speed of the news cycle — I remember before the 24/7 cycle — many people want to get information out there fast. This includes traditional media, picking up stories that bubble up in the blogosphere.
The New York Times wrote an fascinating article about Martin Eisenstadt, a senior McCain advisor, who turned out to be a hoax. Check out the article, “A Senior Fellow at the Institute of Nonexistence,” for the details.
But the point is that most bloggers, and quite a few journalists, accepted at face value the news and opinion from Eisenstadt (played by Eitan Gorlin) without digging deeper. There were clues out there that Eisenstadt wasn’t who he said he was, according to the article, for anyone to find. But in the rush, not enough people actually did. Interestingly, there was one blogger who kept on the Eisenstadt trail, pointing out discrepancies in his story. And reporters at major media, when they found out the truth, did apologize and publicly comment. I’m not sure, though, that the disclosure changed procedures/policies anywhere.
That’s a challenge for those who turn to the Internet for facts and trend data. It’s a challenge for PR departments when reaching out to bloggers.