March 18th, 2009 by Wendy McAuliffe
Respected blogger and Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang came in for a bit of a battering yesterday when he published a blog post about social software company Mzinga, claiming he’d received multiple reports (“over four direct messages or emails”) that the company was in trouble. Please read the full post by Jeremiah.
The post has received 75 irate comments (at time of writing), and Jeremiah has since been compelled to write a full public apology to Mzinga which has stirred up a further 35 comments.
The incident is an important lesson to every blogger/journalist, and raises a big question mark over whether Twitter should be considered a reliable source of information, or indeed any social source.
Trained journalists are taught to use multiple sources – as a rule of thumb, I was always taught to corroborate a story through a minimum of two to three trusted sources.
According to Wikipedia, examples of sources include “official records, publications or broadcasts, officials in government or business, organizations or corporations, witnesses of crime, accidents or other events, and people involved with or affected by a news event or issue”. I haven’t been able to find any up-to-date industry guidelines on how journalists should treat social media sources – if you know of any, please share!
In my mind, the mistake that Jeremiah made was to not wait for an official response from Mzinga. He linked to a Twitter reply from the company’s PR manager, in which she wrote: “@jowyang Sorry to not reply sooner. Happy to talk about what you’ve been hearing. Will DM you to set up a time to chat”, but decided to publish before having had this conversation. A journalist would never have been able to sneak this under the nose of an editor!
Respected bloggers have a responsibility to their readers, and it could be argued should be bound by the same ethical and liable rules as journalists. Twitter is an unmoderated platform where anyone can say anything, and if it is to be used as a story source, my feeling is that the rule of multiple sources should be at least tripled before a story can be corroborated.
If any journalists are reading this post, I’d be interested to hear whether their editorial guidelines are the same for their newspaper/magazine as their company blog, and whether they relax rules for a personal blog that they might write.