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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Are Reckless Blogs Eroding Our Concept of Credibility?


Are Reckless Blogs Eroding Our Concept of Credibility?

By Nathan Johnson

Bloggers are sued all the time, but it was only a matter of time before it happened to a high-profile blogger. I’m talking about Perez Hilton, a popular blogger who features celebrity gossip and photographs on his site. In this case, Hilton is being sued for allegedly not obtaining photo rights for some of the photos he displays on his blog. Since he’s selling ad space on his site, if the allegations are true, Hilton would, in effect, be profiting from using photos for which he hasn’t paid the owners of those photos. That’s illegal.
Guilty or not, Hilton’s situation highlights a growing concern with the blogosphere – who’s making sure bloggers are following the rules and providing credible information obtained through honest means?

A traditional news outlet is required to have photo clearance as well as documentation that all of the facts in a story are verifiable. Those items serve as a defense in cases where those news outlets are accused of libel or some other misrepresentation of the facts.
Some bloggers seem to exist outside the law – which makes those blogs attractive to many readers who like their news “unfiltered.” Not having to check the facts or get the right photo clearance makes it possible to post a story within minutes of it actually happening. Traditional news outlets can’t compete with that.


If you took a poll, you’d probably find that people in general still tip the credibility scale slightly in favor of traditional news outlets, but in a society that seems to value its news outlets more for the entertainment they provide than for the amount of truth they share, many people don’t care about credibility the way they used to, and that’s a shame.

In our lust to be the first kid on the block that knows that Nick and Jessica are getting a divorce or Kevin and Britney are getting a divorce or Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson are getting a divorce, we’re not as concerned with the credibility of the source or whether they did or didn’t pay for the rights to their photo evidence. We don’t care if all of the details are right – the blogger will just update the story throughout the day, changing those “facts” that were reported incorrectly the first time and hiding behind a veil of the report as a “rumor.”

As someone in the business world, you might be wondering why you should care. For businesses to conduct successful public relations programs aimed at building or maintaining credibility, the news outlets they target must be credible. While many blogs serve as credible outlets that should be targeted by PR efforts, those that take liberties with information or thumb their noses at journalistic integrity could be jeopardizing the credibility of all blogs and traditional new outlets.

Though we’d like to believe the reckless “journalism” practiced by some blogs is limited to celebrity gossip, it extends into the business realm. There are a number of blogs – some good, some bad – offering commentaries on businesses and their products. When irresponsible blogs print opinion as truth, or when they twist the facts about a product or service, that could hurt your business. Unfortunately, as it stands now, because blogs are so popular and so mysterious to many companies, those companies operate in a kind of fearful awe of blogs and bloggers, allowing them to get away with things they’d request a newspaper to run a correction about.
In addition, I’ve even seen some traditional news outlets quote blogs or even notes left in the “comments” section of blogs. It’s frightening that a traditional news outlet would cite an unverifiable source such as a blog guest’s comments, but it’s happening, and the only way it’s going to stop is if companies begin to stand up to the blogs (and even traditional news outlets), call them on their inaccuracies and require them to play by the rules.

If blogs are going to pass themselves off as official news sites, then they must be held to the same legal and ethical standards as traditional news outlets. That shouldn’t begin with lawsuits like the one Perez Hilton faces. It should begin with you and me. As readers, we have to hold our news sites – be they blogs or otherwise – to a higher standard. If they refuse to play by the rules of providing credible news obtained honestly, then we should stop patronizing them. It’s simple supply and demand. If we, the people, stop demanding rumors and gossip as our news, and if we stop demanding our news to serve as little more than entertainment, then real news will be more credible.


Our concept of credibility does seem to be eroding, but it’s not too late. If we demand real credibility and honesty from our news outlets, we just might be able to reverse the process.

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