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January 18, 2005


The One True b!X

But there are also interesting questions about credibility and blogs.


How do you maintain standards of accuracy and credibility in a conversational, largely first-person format that circumvents the editor and talks directly to the public?

How much about yourself do you need to disclose  (personally, financially, and politically) as an independent blogger - or as a journalist who blogs for a news organization - if you are going to be deemed credible by the public over the long run?

All wonderfully valid and direct questions.

And all wonderfully valid and direct examples of why it makes the discussion makes no sense without including people who have to struggle towards credibility because they have no professional background.


Ochone! Ochone!

Ms. MacKinnon! Madame! You have bruised my snarkly vanity! (And yes, "snarkly" is a word, but it's copyrighted to me, and I am owed a nickel each time it is used in a blogly form. (You don't want to know who owns "blogly," though, trust me.))

Your link to the "evil-cyborgs-kittens" story goes to my most excellent friend NTodd's blog. And while I respect his snarkly powers (Quakers have unsuspected resources), the origins of the snark in question can be found in the slapdash blog I put up here, to which he merely links (without fact-checking, the bounder). And, for the record, the original post DID make it to Atrios's main page, though it has not yet made the leap to Crossfire or the Factor. Give it a week. Who knows? Maybe at some point some well-coiffed Fox reporter will be cornering your university's fine president, demanding to know why some cyborgs are inherently programmed to ingest felines and others are not.

To drop the snark, though, for a moment, in my original comment I was hoping, first, to change the tone somewhat to snark rather than vitriol. There is, I would insist, a difference, though I can appreciate why it might be hard to see this when you're on the business end of it. I do hope, though, that the second reason for the post was clear -- to make a point. With all due respect, it is IMO legitimate to rise ethical questions about the "disclaimers" at the top of that thread. There is a chain of links from a free blogspot site to Novak and O'Reilly, and whatever the intentions of anyone at the blog-end of the chain, when the story hit the broadcast media, the truth was a partisan casualty (and it was bloodied at the print level, too).

Given that a conduit like this exists -- a right wing, pro-administration one, mostly, obviously -- I would really like to see someone at your organization seriously address the fact-checking responsibilities implicit in linking. It can be a very dangerous game and can cause a LOT of trouble (as you may have noticed). And, no offense, but I will still say that those "disclaimers" are inadequate. Frankly, they looked like CYA, not a well-considered ethical standard for handling difficult decisions. That's why you got a thread with 150+ comments, BTW.

And on another note: civility is overrated. If I had merely posted a polite demurral a few days ago, you would have been (a) denied a chance to have a laugh with your colleagues (which I hope broke the tension a bit), and (b) nobody would have noticed it amid the noise and haste. Snark can be an effective and legitimate rhetorical mode online. At any rate (vulgar blogwhore) it is possible to make a principled stand against civility itself.

Please accept my sincere wishes for a productive conference, and give my love to the kitties.

Jon Garfunkel

Huh? Who is it that has to struggle towards credibility? It takes time, of course, to build credibility. What we've found with online media is that time is sped up-- and before reputations are built up on a quicker pace, they are often destroyed on a quicker pace. So I think what I'd like to see out of this conference is some better mechanisms for building reputations. My suggestion is the Hearsay Network.


"I've been called by several reporters today. It appears that both the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal will be doing stories about this week's Webcred conference. Both stories are likely to come out on Friday."

Remember the other day when I was talking about why it is important that progressives should not just pooh, pooh this conference because they say, "We're just getting a group of people together, using our own funds, to yak for a couple of days." ?

The media follows the establishment around to get their experts. Where do these experts come from? They look to the usual suspects. What if the true movers and shakers aren't part of this group? Why that would take research! Or Googling. I'll tell you a secret about Googling, they weight "credible" sources as part of the search algorithm, it is one way to defeat the search engine optimizers that just throw up tons of links. So when the words of the conference are tied with Harvard (the "H" bomb!), your rank goes up. Then when the reporters do their stories on the topic it bumps up the page rank some more.

Of course the curious thing is that I'm guessing a bunch of your web traffic came from Atrios or Ntodd, neither of whom are likely to be quoted within the stories.

What a lot of journalist might not get is how easily blogs are twisted to serve a political purpose and how that same easy twisting will soon be used to serve corporations product goals. The twisting is sometimes done by understanding the thirst of the journalist for scandals (supplied by Drudge), or controversy (Memogate and fonts). If you want to start looking at how journalists are influenced today, look at how blogs are influenced. Some blogs are done cynically for money and fame (Drudge) others are done out of ideological drive (Free republic, Kos) but think how simple it would be for a political player to drop a directive comment into heavily trafficked blogs. The Idea is picked up, echoed, transmitted from lower to "higher" status blogs until the mainstream media "have to comment on it".
If they don't want to take the chance at a group of bloggers picking up an Idea they seed it with a specific individual who can be two to three steps removed from the source. That was the method for the Rather story. Didn't it seem at all curious how quickly that person had done the memo analysis (posting before the show was even over?)

The deal is that the media WANT to do the story. The political source knows that and since they can't take the story from named sources, they slide it out as a "grassroots" source. They then can attribute the story to "the internets".

It's kind of sad to see so many people suckered, but it happens.

I've already spotted comments placed on both right wing and left wing blogs as seeds for ideas and stories. If I was a good IP sleuth I could track these to the placement sources. Now wouldn't THAT yield some interesting data! Who is feeding what to whom! Maybe it isn't important, but it is a role that the blogs are playing now whether or not journalists want to admit it.


LOL! Looking at the last few days, I think you folks have made enough mistakes to last a whole series of conferences on ethics and credibility :-).

FAQ: "What happens if one of your news organization's blogs links to something that ends up not being accurate"

Disclaimers: "We link to things online that we find interesting and worth further discussion or examination before and during the conference. We do not fact-check articles, blog posts, and other online material before linking to them."

FAQ: Mainstream media is facing credibility crisis right now. It's why I quit my job.

...the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal will be doing stories about this week's Webcred conference

Hmm. According to Laura Gross, two WSJ journalists wrote a sloppy and inaccurate article, complete with a fake quote, using another journalist's material. So how come you're still giving interviews to a mainstream media outfit that has proven it is not credible? It just doesn't make sense.

And from what I read here, the Berkman Center journalists have their own credibility problem.

Poor kittens!


Mainstream media is facing credibility crisis right now. It's why I quit my job. Blogs are doing much to challenge professional journalists' credibility, and with good reason. But there are also interesting questions about credibility and blogs.

Actually, those questions aren't that interesting. There are three basic varieties of blog facts:

1) A blogger relates a fact from personal experience
2) A blogger relates an unsourced fact
3) A blogger relates a sourced (usually linked) fact

if the journalist has any questions, ask the blogger, or follow the link. The vast majority of them will be more than happy to help out any journalist that makes inquiries.

This isn't rocket science---indeed, its so obvious that pretending the question of blog credibility is "interesting" suggests that there is another (subconscious?) agenda at work here.

Journalism is, as you note, suffering a credibility crisis. But that crisis is insoluable---the problem isn't a lack of good reporters, or a lack of journalistic standards, its the complete lack of major mass media corporations that actually give a damn about good reporting and journalistic standards. Of course, those corporations are merely responding to the fact that news consumers care far less about good reporting and journalistic standards than they do about Amber Frey or Brad and Jen.

So journalists and their academic counterparts are now avoiding the issue by projecting the problem of "credibility" onto the blogging community, and treating the "blogging credibility crisis" as if it exists.

But it doesn't. Some bloggers care deeply about how their credibility is perceived, others don't give a damn. But its not a problem for either group.

There probably isn't a working journalist who doesn't know that the reason Bush won the election wasn't because the "youth vote" didn't turn out, or because of "values"---it was because Bush voters were, to but it bluntly, ignorant. But the journalistic community was so afraid of the "eastern liberal media bias" label that they didn't say that---instead they came up with all sort of other reasons Bush won. (Plus, admitting that we now live in the United States of Stupid is an acknowledgement of what a horrible job journalism has done over the last four years.)

Its far from an original thought, but there is more "truth" in 22 minutes of The Daily Show than in 24 hours of CNN.

Next time, hold a conference to figure out how journalists can get back in the "truth" business.


Your link to the "evil-cyborgs-kittens" story goes to my most excellent friend NTodd's blog. And while I respect his snarkly powers (Quakers have unsuspected resources), the origins of the snark in question can be found in the slapdash blog I put up here, to which he merely links (without fact-checking, the bounder).

I'd like to go on record that I do not endorse the evil kitten-eating cyborg story. I just found the story interesting and worth further discussion.

But please note that I did find some very credible photoshopped evidence that there are evil kitten-eating cyborgs. And I have a friend who knows this guy who is going to send me a picture he has that clearly shows Rebecca being evil AND eating a kitten. I suggest you all watch Crossfire tonight for more on that interesting story.


BTW, I just wanted to say that I think your accepting the mantle of cyborg is wicked cool and goes a little way toward establishing some street cred for you. Really. If you can't take a pie in the face with aplomb, you're in the wrong biz.

There's a lot of serious discussion that goes on in the blogosphere, but you can't take it too seriously. Life's too short.

PS--My contacts were a bit bleary this AM and I didn't notice the classic running kitten in the photo you posted. Bravo.

The One True b!X

Who is it that has to struggle towards credibility? It takes time, of course, to build credibility.

Of course it does. And when you start out as just some random citizen claiming to be doing reporting, you have to earn credibility over time -- in essence, struggling to gain acceptance and trust.

That has been my point in all of this. Those who come to weblogs-as-journalism without any background a reader can use as a cue have had to build up trust and credibility over time -- in a way that those participating in this conference have not. Thus, there's a gap in the conversation.

Rebecca MacKinnon

Yes, there are lots of gaps in the conversation and there are lots of people I would have liked to invite, but at this point we've got the group that we've got. This conference is not the final word on anything. There will probably be other projects and gatherings in the future. Meanwhile it's good to know who out there is most passionate about these things.

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