Journalism isn’t Dead; You Just Have to be Willing to Do It

Cynthiab over at the SitePoint Forums started a topic called “Will Blogging Cause the Demise of Journalism?” She’s from the magazine world and was lamenting the differences between it and the world of blogs, talking about how she can see the different when there are a bunch of writers on a conference call. “I take the transcript and write an “article” (even though it’s for a blog). I shape the piece with my impressions and other information, but while I’m doing that two other blogs have posted the entire transcript without any additional content and it’s all out there,” she said.

I made a long reply to this, so I thought that I would turn it into a post here.

I think that in some ways maybe, but overall, no. What we have is the internet giving voices to more people. It’s great because some people (like myself) wouldn’t have had a chance to have a voice, but it’s bad, of course, because some of these people that are now given a voice really are best kept quiet because they are slimeballs. But, that’s the internet. It can make the great, greater and it can make the worse, even worse. It’s about you. What do you want to do for your blog? What do you need to do? There will always be room for well researched and thought out articles. There is also value in transcripts, too, in that some people would say they are sick of having journalists, writers, columnists shape how an article sounds – they’d rather just hear exactly what the person said. There is room for both.

I practice what I would call responsible blogging. I’d call it journalism, though it’s not as strict as the background she talked about. Basically, it’s considering what you are reporting and checking with sources and, if you need to post something as a rumor, make sure that you clearly mention it’s a rumor and caution your readers to that effect.

I own/write for Bad Boy Blog, a fan site dedicated to a record label (Bad Boy Entertainment). We’re really the best source of news on that label. We break great stories with regularity because I have spent time building up an extensive network of contacts at and around the company. I pride myself on not just passing along info, but also trying to find out if it’s true. For example:

A few days or so ago, the Daily Mail and the Daily Star were reporting that Sean “Diddy” Combs was changing his official stage name again. This time, to Sean John. And about 50 Google News listed outlets picked it up and ran with it as a fact. I read these reports and I thought “this is weird. If Diddy was going to announce this sort of thing, why would he choose some publication in the UK or Asia or something? Announcing it in the U.S., not in some side quote, would generate the most press.” Diddy’s a smart guy, so I doubted he’d have done it like that. Sensing that this was wrong, I held off on reporting it. Someone left a comment on the blog mentioning it to me and I said I was looking into it and that my guess was that either he was misquoted or someone ran with something he said and stretched it to make a story.

I contacted three sources and I heard back from his publicist and she gave me their official comment on it. No, it was not true, his quote had been misinterpreted and she explained why. Within 20-30 minutes, I had an article published. A short article, with some background on why I had held off on the story, that featured the official statement. We were the first outlet to report that the story was false. I contacted maybe 20 outlets that had printed the story that had been proven false to just politely let them know and to give them a link to my story. Only two replied (one within a day, one in the last day or so) and they both seemed like a pretty standard “thank you for your message”. As far as I know, we didn’t get a single link out of breaking it!

And then, a couple hours later, MTV reported the story with the statement from the publicist (I’m sure she sent the statement out to loads of outlets). And then a bunch of people linked to MTV and MTV is listed in Google News. Meanwhile, Google News has deemed my site inappropriate for indexing (I’ve talked about this before… perhaps best here)… but, that’s another frustration.

A few days before this story, even, we had another story with the former Senior Director of A&R at the label. In early January, a rumors section at a major hip hop site as well as a huge gossip site (that I have no idea why anyone reads because 90% of their stories are nonsense, if not more) reported that he had left the label and that it was because of money and, perhaps, the work environment. In other words, he was unhappy.

I spoke with him in like the third week of January, weeks after this story had been passed around. I hadn’t had time to chase it down (and, apparently, no one else had bothered). I contacted him directly via e-mail and asked for his comment. That was like 10:00 PM at night. He replied within 10 minutes asking for a phone number. I gave it and we spoke soon after. He told me that he had left the company, but that it was not because of him being unhappy – he’s now the President of a different company, so he was moving on to better things. He even told me that Bad Boy had offered him a substantial raise to stay and that he had no problems with the work environment, saying that Diddy and another top exec were like brothers to him and were supportive of his move, even though they wanted him to stay.

He also told me that he reached out to the gossip site (he named them, I won’t name them since they aren’t worth it) to clear this up and they didn’t reply to him. I told him I wasn’t surprised. And we had a nice chat and he said to contact him if I should need anything in the future. And I posted my story soon after. He was a nice guy. Keep in mind that this is the first time I’d ever contacted him. We spoke on the phone within an hour of me e-mailing him. So, pretty much the only reason that someone couldn’t have reached out to him to verify is because they were either lazy or they don’t want to know the truth (and can get a better story out of a lie). None of this is particularly surprising, of course, as some people do whatever they possibly can to try to make some companies and celebrities (especially Diddy) look bad, but it serves as a nice reminder. The truth is still important to me (as a writer and a fan).

The point is… journalism is not dead, you just have to be willing to do it, even when you feel pressured not to.

Patrick O'Keefe

Managing online communities since 2000, I publish a collective of websites known as the iFroggy Network. I wrote the book Managing Online Forums and, as a public speaker, have presented for organizations like CNN, institutions like Australian National University and conferences like SXSW. More about me.

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