Blogging vs. Reporting: A Case Study

For several months, I’ve worked on and off on drafting articles examining the complicated relationship between blogging and reporting. Following the reactions I’ve received from last night’s post concerning the Twins and Cedar Rapids Kernels, I thought this morning might be a good time to get that ball rolling.

I’ve been accused, if indirectly, of making stuff up to get more traffic here at the blog. I really have no motive to do that. Anyone who’s been here will notice immediately that we don’t incorporate advertising at Knuckleballs. Maybe that will change some day, but frankly I just don’t consider it worth the hassle. In any event, the revenue we generate from 200 reads per day and 2,000 reads per day is exactly the same. Zero dollars. We cover the expenses involved in maintaining this site out of our own pockets. Of course, it’s nice to have people read your stuff and I happen to think I’m a decent writer, for a fan.

(Image: dailyblogtips.com)

But that’s the thing… I’m a fan, not a reporter and I have no grand dreams of getting paid big bucks to do this stuff.

While the trend toward reporters all having blogs and some fan-bloggers getting space in traditional media outlets is making that line more and more grey, the line is still important. At least it is to me.

If I were a reporter, I should have needed two sources to go on the record before posting last night. As a fan with a blog, yet a blogger with some sense of journalistic ethics, I need at least one source that I have a high degree of confidence in who is willing to tell me it’s OK to publish what I know.

Since I’ve been doing this a while, I have a pretty nice number of sources (at least for a blogger, I would imagine), both in Minnesota and Iowa. One of them confirmed that the information in my lead paragraph was accurate and after some discussion (in which I asked if I should hold off posting for at least a day), I was given the OK to post on this blog Monday night. I did so.

I understand that I may have made life challenging for some people that I highly respect in one or both organizations, the Twins and Kernels, as a result of my posting the information and I do regret that. I also feel bad that perhaps a few people along the Avenue of the Saints who are known to “know me,” will be looked upon suspiciously as being my source. I’ve certainly had more than one person tell me they wish I had held off. It was not my intention to cause problems for anyone and I do apologize to anyone I inconvenienced in any way. I was a fan with some damn exciting news to share and a vehicle at my disposal for doing so. Period.

But I stand by what I wrote. I did not say a PDC had been entered in to. I said the Kernels had agreed to a proposal to enter a PDC. I believe that information was and is accurate. I guess it won’t take long to find out if that’s true.

There’s another group that I struggle a bit with the question of whether I should apologize to them. That would be members of the “working media” who may have been irked at me for intruding on their turf and publishing before they could do so, either because they didn’t have sources willing to go on the record or because they chose to honor a request to hold back reporting the story a while longer.

It suppose it can be maddening to honor a request not to publish information only to see another writer, whether traditional or non-traditional, put the story out there. I saw that happen, in fact, this past weekend with the information that the Twins representatives would be in Cedar Rapids Monday. Some of us may have had that information as confidential, but apparently others had the OK to publish Sunday. It happens.

So I can understand their frustration. Reporters have a tighter set of rules to live by than I do, as I pointed out before. In today’s confusing media world, that has to be really difficult to work through at times.

But if a reporter also has a blog, is s/he bound by the same standards for what they print in that blog as they are when they write a news story? What about sports columnists? Where are the lines?

Similarly, what about a fan-blogger who either occasionally or regularly gets an offer to have his work posted on a traditional media site? Should s/he do so if s/he knows s/he wouldn’t have published the blog post in the first place had it been written FOR that media outlet?

What’s most important, perhaps, is that the readers understand that there IS a difference between the information they see in a blog (including this one) and the information they get from, for example, the online version of their local newspaper. The “real” newspeople are professionals and you should nearly always consider their information to be far more credible than anything you read in a blog. They may not always be able to get the information out there first, but when they write something, you can generally trust it. That certainly can not and should not be said about all bloggers.

The best I can do is tell you this: When you see something I’ve written here or on any other site, you can believe I follow certain ethical guidelines that I impose upon myself. I don’t make stuff up (or on the rare occasion that I do, you should be able to recognize it immediately as satire), I don’t claim others’ work as my own. I don’t burn sources. I don’t even discuss them. I know the difference between on the record and off… and I make sure my sources understand the difference, too. I do not post anything that I am asked to keep confidential.

As consumers of online information, we all have to determine for ourselves if the stuff we read out there should be treated as credible information or just stuff put out there for entertainment purposes (or even just to cause trouble). I hope you find my writing to be credible and I certainly hope you don’t think I’m out here just to cause trouble for anyone. On the other hand, if you choose to believe my writing falls in to the “just entertainment” category, I can live with that. In fact, most of the time, we do try to be at least a little bit entertaining here.

– JC

4 thoughts on “Blogging vs. Reporting: A Case Study

  1. Well written, JC!! I fight this all the time as well. I’ve held back information many times, waiting an OK from someone only to find someone else “break” the news, and I’m OK with that. But when you have a good contact that’s trustworthy and knowledgeable, good for you!!

  2. “If I were a reporter, I should have needed two sources to go on the record before posting last night.”

    Only in a fantasy world of journalism schools.

    “Some of us may have had that information as confidential, but apparently others had the OK to publish Sunday.”

    I wish more journalists would acknowledge the reality that sources run the show. Readers have a “right to know” only if the source approves or the source is a one-off who the reporter won’t likely need in the future.

    ” The “real” newspeople are professionals and you should nearly always consider their information to be far more credible than anything you read in a blog.”

    This is mostly nonsense. There are plenty of professionals whose information is not as trustworthy as some bloggers. They aren’t paid to give people accurate information. They are paid to attract an audience with entertaining writing. That usually includes maintaining some appearance of credibility, but nothing more. The credibility of a news source has little to do with whether or how the author gets paid. That is particularly true of sports writers. There is a reason they aren’t called sports “reporters”.

  3. I suppose I’m just more idealistic than our Anonymous friend, above, or at least not quite as cynical. Of course there are good and bad professional reporters, but I tend to think more highly of them than others do. Or maybe I just hold them up against poltical reporters/writers and the sports folks just seem more professional by comparison.

  4. I agree with you 100%. There is a big difference between blogging and professional reporting and it is a standards issue. Reporters must be able to back up their stories. If they can’t they are no longer employed. Bloggers have great latitude in what they post. In fact they can post whatever they want. If I had a blog I could post that the Twins are moving to Bismark with no repercussion except that my readership would dwindle maybe.

    Just look at the political blogs. They are rife with innuendo outright lies and falsehoods. It doesn’t matter what your politics there will be someone blogging lies about your position. It’s sad that people can’t realize the difference between the lies in the blogs and true reporting. A lot of the blogging is simply free propaganda.

    Just because it written doesn’t mean it’s true. I really enjoy reading the Twins blogs on this site but that doesn’t mean I believe everything I read. In fact I’ve read some really wacky stuff but all in all I find them to be entertaining and educational. Thanks for the hard work folks.