Tuesday, December 27, 2005

We report, you decide to attack

The plagiarism meme has been boiling along for a week or so now, starting with Mike Arrington's article on Josh Stomel republishing his content. It was originally entitled "Fuck You, Josh Stomel", but Mike has since changed that to "Go To Hell, Josh Stomel" presumably in an effort to tone things down, though I fail to see much improvement in eternal damnation as opposed to presumably non-consensual sexual relations. Om Malik stoked the fires with his own attack on a splogger, and after a blog post by Jonathan B which journalistically covers the Stomel incident, Mike has continued with a rebuttal claiming that he is a victim being blamed. If that wasn't enough, Phil Sim weighs in with an I told you so.

Mike falls for that increasingly prevalent misconception that the multitudinous threats to journalism, particularly those of the Internet through the rise of amateur media, means that practitioners of the craft should abandon their professionalism and instead embrace partisanship. He called Jonathan's piece "disappointing", but I thought it was a perfectly reasonable article which was a worthy addition to the debate. Jonathan presented the facts he was able to learn in a consistent manner without making unsupported statements.

Journalistic professionalism is there for a reason. It is there because journalists (of which I am one by profession, if not current practice) have the humility to understand that they can not presume to know all the facts of a story, and thus have to be very cautious in making judgements. If you think that's pompous, think of it this way: journalists are very wary of being accused of getting something wrong, especially something as important as a value judgement, so they try to cover their arses as much as possible so as to minimise the amount of justifiable criticism they have to endure. Either way works, depending on whether you're a glass-half-full or half-empty kind of person.

I think anyone who had an understanding of how blogs work would read Jonathan's piece and draw a negative opinion of Josh's version of events. Too many things he says are ridiculous and/or display a naïveté which is hard to credit to someone in his position. Crucially, Jonathan did not make these value judgements for us. He merely presented the facts and quotes as Josh had provided them. That he did not accompany his piece with a tirade against the evil of Josh's actions does not reflect badly on Jonathan at all - there is a time for an argumentative essay and a time for a factual briefing.

Mike says: "Journalists have a responsibility to dig for the truth, not to blindly report what both sides are saying. Just because people disagree doesn’t mean the truth lies somewhere in the middle." Much the same argument is put forward by those fighting creationism or the lies propagated by the US religious right who are continually frustrated by what they see as moral relativism giving equal screen time to their obviously disingenuous opponents. However, I submit that journalists can not assume that their audience is too stupid to make their own judgements. That is how Fox News got so popular in the first place - by Murdoch seeing that CNN et al were talking down to the audience too much and that there was a market opportunity for an outwardly right-leaning network to offset the leftish lean of other TV news. Giving in to partisanship would only lock in the wrongness of Fox's philosophy, which is mirrored in the American political part of the blogosphere.

It's all about respect: the journalist and/or blogger respecting the intelligence of the audience. Lose that, and you turn into the very thing you hate.


Blogger Kevin Leversee at gmail.com said...

Paul its not just respect its also understanding the mix mash and use factors. Blogging is not reporting. Blogging is not journalism. And thank God for Creative Commons. I feel that most of the backlash about plagerism, blogsphere, and the mis concept that somehow traditional media is better is foolish. Its almost like we need to start taking an Eastern View of it all, almost like the Tao... view it all as just is. Blogging just is. Journalism Just is, they are two distict and different things.

-Kevin Leversee

11:07 am, December 29, 2005  

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