April 24th, 2008 by Lloyd Gofton
There’s a fascinating debate going on over at the Guardian’s ‘Comment is free’. It started off as a discussion between well-known blogger and journalist Jeff Jarvis and the Guardian’s America editor Michael Tomasky, but has turned into something much bigger.
The debate centers on: Should the internet’s new breed of ‘citizen journalists’ have the responsibilities of journalists or the rights of citizens?
The catalyst for the discussion was a report by Mayhill Fowler, on the Huffington Post’s politics blog, Off The Bus in which Fowler confirmed that Barack Obama had described rural, white voters as “bitter”. Obviously this caused plenty of political noise, and last week Michael Tomasky argued that Fowler’s reporting raised serious ethical questions, suggesting that blogging, like journalism, needs rules. Jeff Jarvis responded on his blog Buzzmachine that openness, not rules, was demanded in the era of the internet.
Of course the debate hasn’t stopped there – it’s still going on at ’Comment is free’ and i think it raises a wider question of reputation on the web, which Jarvis touches on.
If, as the debate mentions, a blogger, citizen journalist, call them what you will, publishes a tissue of lies, they will be found out, barracked – (excuse the pun) and lose their hard earned reputation. So, the question becomes why would a trusted source ruin their own reputation, which is something that takes time to build and is hard work to keep? And if the story isn’t coming from a trusted source, why would it be believed?
While i understand that Tomasky is trying to bring some regulation to citizen journalists, i believe the accountability is inherent and the environment radically different to that of mainstream journalists. Therefore, why would bloggers need a stifling rule book, which would just be ignored by the muck-rakers that he is trying to eradicate anyway?
I believe that in an online world of words and content, where transparency and reputation is the one thing that can’t be faked or purchased, the web is self-regulating as it’s easy to write a lie, but hard to get people to believe it.