Blogs vs. Newspapers

One important difference among blogs and newspapers (paper or Web sites) is the fact that no one expects bloggers to verify their sources, or to be objective (unless the blog claims otherwise). On the other hand, newspapers are supposed to be authoritative. This means that newspaper journalists should be verify their sources, get a response from people being covered in news items, etc.

Five Unpublicized Anecdotes (in Hebrew) has accounts of five instances, in which journalists and/or newspapers violated ethics or professionalism. The anecdotes can be summarized as follows:

  1. One journalist steals a news item from a colleague, without giving due credit.
  2. A journalist publicized embarrassing personal information about a politician among the politician’s network of friends, rather than publicize it. The information in question was the politician’s very explicit cellphone talk with his mistress.
  3. An embargo agreement between a police investigator and a journalist, not to publicize anything about a certain sensitive investigation before it ends, was not honored by the journalist’s newspaper due to changes in personnel.
  4. A journalist was careful and refused to publicize unconfirmed rumor, and was eventually fired as a result of this refusal.
  5. Another journalist publicized a fabricated news item, which had no basis in fact.

Won’t it be great if bloggers could volunteer to monitor the news items publicized by newspapers, and keep the newspapers and their journalists honest?

Bloggers could catch textual duplications between different newspapers (anecdote 1), and call out newspapers for publicizing false information (anecdotes 4,5).

At present, the only mechanism for keeping newspapers honest is the threat of libel lawsuits. This does not work for keeping out fabricated news items, which damage no one’s reputation. False but non-defamatory news items about people do not lead to libel lawsuits either. People also sometimes let libelous information pass by, knowing that their personal acquaintances know better.

How to implement such a newspapers’ monitoring network?

One approach would be to observe the mechanisms being developed by the Wikipedia for ensuring the correctness of the information in its articles, as well as academic research about trust and reputation networks. Then try to adapt them to set up a network of newspaper monitoring bloggers.

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