Valleywag demonstrates why the blogosphere is a poor source for news logoI am obviously a big fan of blogs and blogging, and spend an inordinate amount of time every week reading blogs, commenting upon blogs, writing original content and managing my own weblogs. However, while there are lots of great characteristics of blogs and, collectively, the blogosphere, I have always had reservations about blogs as a news medium.
With its recent, false story about a major power outage in a San Francisco data center being caused by an intoxicated employee Valleywag — an avowed gossip site anyway — really does demonstrate why blogs aren’t a great place for news and why there might just be some value to journalists and their formal journalistic training in a completely digital age.

As related by Valleywag writer Owen Thomas, the story started with a power outage coupled with an anonymous instant message being received that suggested a salacious reason, one that certainly would make for good buzz. If only it had been true.
In journalism school, you would never even think about sharing any gossip of this nature without at least two reliable sources, but that never stopped Owen, nor did it stop other bloggers from picking up the incendiary story and shining a very negative light on the Web server hosting company in question. (You’ll note that I am not mentioning the company involved. They’ve gotten enough bad publicity at this point. In a few weeks I might come back and add a link here, but for now, let’s let the dust settle. The fact is, any outage of any sort is a critical problem for a hosting company and that’s what they need to focus their energy upon, not worrying about bad publicity and its fallout with their client base)
If this were an isolated incident, I’d just chalk it up to youthful enthusiasm at Valleywag, but I see far too much of this in the blogosphere, this “shooting from the hip” journalistic style where even the most outlandish gossip and rumor is ripe for the reporting. You name a truly popular blog and do your homework; just about all of them fall victim to the siren song of getting the news out first, even if it’s wrong.
Indeed, it’s become such an entrenched part of blogging culture that you’ll hear bloggers actually defend this shoddy practice by saying that blogging is superior to traditional journalism because bloggers publish retractions when they get things wrong, as Owen has done over at Valleywag.
Maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t it be better to be a day late on the story and get the facts right?
This is one big reason I don’t read any political blogs too: if the business and tech bloggers play this fast and loose with the facts, I can only imagine — with horror — the kind of slander and innuendo that must be a daily occurrence on the political, news commentary and opinion blogosphere.
I know that I’m glad I get my news from sites like The Wall Street Journal (yes, I pay for my annual access), The New York TimesGoogle News, which neatly aggregates the latest across hundreds of reputable, journalistic sites that seek to retain some integrity and accuracy across their reporting.
Of course, it’s also possible that I’m a dinosaur, destined for extinction in a world where being fast is more important than being accurate. Heck, isn’t that the core appeal of daft services like Twitter and Pownce after all? Speed over everything else, including privacy and accuracy?

6 comments on “Valleywag demonstrates why the blogosphere is a poor source for news

  1. I’m 100% with you on this Dave but with one caveat. Like you I’m a huge fan of the blogs but I’m wondering whether the blogs are reflective of a certain segment that is more willing to believe ANYTHING it reads in the blogs than in discovering facts (note I didn’t say truth.)

  2. I think this goes to the broad brush theory. Not all blogs are media, and not all media are blogs. Valleywag, as a gossip site, is bound to be wrong, just like MacRumors or other rumor and gossip forums. I would not say that Valleywag’s goof reflects poorly on the full blogosphere.

  3. Some quick thoughts:
    1. Newspapers will print retractions.
    2. Newspapers have fact-checkers.
    3. Newspapers have an editorial process, so someone generally couldn’t go out and “print what they want.”
    That being said, I met Owen once & he’s a nice guy. He obviously made a mistake, one in which he made an apology & explained what happened. Most people should remember that Valleywag is largely a gossip and rumor blog (but they do get a lot of things right before some other folks do). I largely read it because I think it knocks down some of the SV elite down a few pegs:)

  4. Dave, I’m with you. Almost every time I seek news, I make it through reliable sources, like news site in my country (Brazil) or some others “abroad” (like if there’s borders over the internet).
    Blogs, IMHO, are an excellent – perhaps the best one – socieal network. As you said, people are not used to journalism basics. When that happens, maybe we could all turn them into good and realiable news sources.

  5. Dave,
    Yes, on the bad side political blogs can say whatever they want without accountability. On the positive side we can read political blogs that give us news that traditional media doesn’t. Good blogs, and there are a lot of them, will back up ther articles with appropriate sources. Blogs are also great ‘watchdogs’, monitoring traditional media. Over the last couple of years it’s been blogs that have repeatedly caught traditional media’s false stories, and traditional media’s manipulated PhotoShop images. As our news comes from fewer and fewer sources today, I thank God for the varied views political blogs offers. We just need to learn to weed out the bad ones. Lesson one would be to not use gossip blogs to judge polital blogs.

  6. Remember the “telephone game” we all played back in grammar school? (Well, at least those of us in somewhat progressive grammar schools.) What starts as one thing (perhaps truth) at one end of the line turns into something quite different by the time the story is told and retold.
    At its worst, the Blog-o-smear becomes an over-amplified telephone game, where the feedback overwhelms the message.

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