Of blogs, accuracy and editors

by Mathew on April 15, 2008 · 8 comments

While watching the Twitter posts fly by last night, I saw some from Robert Scoble (of course) talking about advertising, and suggesting to Twitter founder Ev Williams that he be allowed to share in the revenue from ads on the group IM service. Oh, I thought — is Twitter finally launching ads? Then came a post at TechCrunch that said it was. Or was it? Apparently not, according to Silicon Alley Insider, which emailed Biz Stone at Twitter and got a denial that any such plans were in the works.

As it turned out, a background image from Chinese Business Network blogger Christine Lu’s profile pic on Twitter popped up in a yellow box somehow, which made it look like an ad for the network, as she explained in a comment on the TechCrunch post. In other words, no story, right? Except that Duncan Riley of TechCrunch said in a subsequent comment that “ads are coming, it’s just a matter of when.” As more than one person has pointed out, however — including Frederic at The Last Podcast — this assertion comes without any real facts to back it up.

Nate Westheimer, a contributor to Silicon Alley Insider, also has a curious blog post in which he laments the state of blogging, which he says doesn’t pay enough attention to accuracy, and he uses Duncan’s post as an example. Which is fair enough, of course — except that Nate’s post is riddled with errors, including two different spellings of Duncan’s last name and a couple of spelling and grammatical mistakes. Fair enough, you might say — as Nate points out in a comment, he isn’t really a reporter. So is Duncan a reporter? Well, maybe he is and maybe he isn’t.

Duncan and I have had our differences in the past, but I’m not here to beat up on him for the Twitter story. Should he have run with it based on what turned out to be very little factual information? I don’t see why not — but I think it should have been updated later, as others have. Nate says that this shows “the importance of journalistic standards, especially that of using reliable sources and having a standard for truth.” I’m not going to argue with that — having editors is a great thing (mostly). But journalism is about speed as well. It’s a classic battle between going with the story because you’re out of time, and checking one more source or fact.

This isn’t something the blogosphere invented — wire services like Reuters and Associated Press have been operating this way for decades. Report something as quickly as possible, then fix the mistakes later. It’s when the mistakes don’t get fixed that we have something to worry about, and as Thord Daniel Hedengren reminds us, we could all probably do better at that — regardless of what we call ourselves.

  • http://innonate.com/ Nate Westheimer

    Thanks for catching the name spelling mistake. It’s corrected. And as for my spelling and grammar — I’d love to be a full-time writer and have the time to proof-read things :-) still, as amateur as I am, I’m not going to invent news stories because one incompetent computer user things she sees ads. If that was the case, I’d use my grandma as a source for this story: “Computer Takes on Personality of its Own, Hates Grandmother”
    :-)

  • Mathew

    Was it a news story, Nate — or was it a just blog post? What’s the difference? Your blog post about it didn’t require fact-checking or spellchecking. Why did Duncan’s? I’m not yanking your chain — I’m interested in how we define the differences.

  • allen

    Mathew – what you miss in your post is that frankly right or wrong doesn’t matter – inbounds do to a variety of blogs. If you look at duncan’s post (and im not suggesting whether he should or shoul dnot have posted by any means) – he has driven a large number of new fresh inbounds.

    if we looked at say the top 20,000 tech blog posts of all time in terms of inbounds, i wonder how many weren’t true :)

  • Mathew

    I’m not sure it’s true to say that right and wrong don’t matter, Allen — even for Duncan :-) I think it’s probably fair to say that being right is only *one* of the things that matter. And frankly, when it comes right down to it, it’s only part of the equation with traditional media as well.

  • http://www.bryghtpath.com Matt Craven

    So was Duncan to wake up at 3am and make an update to his TC post – since he’s in Australia and all?

    Matt

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  • http://www.knackeredhack.com knackeredhack

    Mathew, I beg to differ with you about wire services. Although standards of accuracy and transparency may vary from wire service to wire service at the margin, I think it is not fair to say that they shoot first and ask questions later. At the core of the Reuters business, for example, are financial market readers where the difference between being right and wrong can cost millions in a nano-second.

    While news editors at other media outlets surely need to be alerted to wire service mistakes as quickly as possible, I think you would find that an angry call from a major investment bank that has lost money as a result of a reporting inaccuracy will focus the mind a lot more quickly than one from another journalist because the mistake is generally more easily reversible for the latter. So there is a premium on accuracy, despite the intense competitive pressure to be first.

    There are other arguments to be had about wire services and the way their services are produced and consumed in the markets, but in my experience they are not careless in the quest for speed.

    Tim

  • Mathew

    @Matt: well, obviously he needs to sleep — but he’s not the only one who works at TechCrunch, is he? And the post still hasn’t been updated. I assume he’s woken up by now.

    @knackered: I’m not suggesting that wire services shoot first and ask questions later. I’m just saying that getting things onto the wire first is more important than just about anything, and if you have worked at a wire service or know someone who has, you know what I’m talking about.

    The fact is that mistakes happen all the time — not the “I made up a story” kind of mistakes, but spelling errors, mis-attributions, etc., and in some cases misunderstandings. It’s a factor of trying to be first. I’m not saying blogs and wire services are identical, I’m just saying there are similarities.

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