The battle of the blogs versus "old media" heated up this weekend with an article in the Sunday New York Times lashing out at tech bloggers for rumor mongering and getting cheap traffic from unverified stories.
The article, entitled "Get the Tech Scuttlebutt! (It Might Even Be True)," focuses particularly on TechCrunch and Gawker/Gizmodo, two highly trafficked tech blog sites that are notorious for publishing rumors. To the Times, this is akin to "yellow journalism," but to the accused bloggers, it's a new method of online journalism where you publish what you know (or what you've heard) and update it later with facts and corrections.
The Times story references two particular rumors: a post on TechCrunch saying Apple was in talks to buy Twitter; and a post on Silicon Alley Insider claiming that Steve Jobs had a heart attack. Neither story turned out to be completely true.
But in separate blog posts, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch and Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine.com set out to defend this supposed new age of online journalism, describing it as an invitation to readers to watch the reporting process as it unfolds.
"We don't believe that readers need to be presented with a sausage all the time," writes Arrington. "Sometimes it's both entertaining and informative to see that sausage being made, too."
In other words, give readers the parts of the story as they fall together. Start with the rumor you heard in the bar and update it thereafter until you get to some kind of truth... maybe.
Jarvis calls this "journalism as beta" and compares the new age of online journalism to Google's process of releasing everything before it's ready.
"Every time Google releases a beta, it is saying that the product is incomplete and imperfect. That is inevitably a call to collaborate," he writes. "Newspaper people see their articles as finished products of their work. Bloggers see their posts as part of the process of learning."
(Not to mention that nothing drives traffic like a sensational headline...)
To be sure, an article from the Times about rumors is a little hard to swallow, as the paper is known for citing phantom sources in most of its breaking news stories. Further, the article comes off as a bit of a desperate attempt to regain ground in the era of "new media."
Nevertheless, there's something very distressing about the idea of "journalism as beta," as it means that the onus is no longer on the writer to get his/her facts straight before reporting them. While news consumers should never take anything at face value -- whether it comes from the Web, TV, newspaper, or village crier -- the always-on world of online news reporting means a story can be told 100 times in a 100 different ways and is less likely to be packed with facts and sources. "Beta" basically means "not ready," and rather than apologizing for it, bloggers like Jarvis and Arrington defend it as the way forward.
In a recent poll on Internet Evolution about the impending death of print, the majority of our readers said they wouldn't mind losing print if we could "maintain journalistic integrity online."
Whether that will happen is still to be determined and depends on one's definition of "journalistic integrity." But one thing is for sure: In the world of online journalism, "beta" journalism, "process journalism," or whatever you want to call it, you'll need to slaughter the pig yourself and stuff your own sausage.
— Nicole Ferraro, Site Editor, Internet Evolution