Fact-Check Before Blogging

In the last little while I’ve seen a few worrying slip-ups in the wonderful world of the blogosphere.

First up, on December 30, 2007 the Washington Post reported that the Recording Industry Association of America sued a man for copying his own CDs onto his computer. With a story like that, it’s not surprising that a blogging storm erupted on the issue, with bloggers left, right and centre slamming the RIAA.

A little later it emerged that the Post story was, well, inaccurate. The RIAA’s lawsuit wasn’t for just copying the CDs, it was for storing the files on a shared folder on his computer for distribution on a peer-to-peer network.

Whoops.

Then, earlier this month, a story emerged about Ford slapping down fans that wanted to produce a calendar with pictures of their Ford Mustangs. Popular blogger Cory Doctorow wrote about it on BoingBoing and another episode of righteous blogger fury emerged.

Again, the story was debunked shortly thereafter. Ford communicator Whitney Drake cropped up on various posts on the subject, stating:

Ford has no problem with Mustang or other car owners taking pictures of their vehicles for use in club materials like calendars.

(Side note: every one of Whitney Drake’s comments that I’ve seen are identical. Can you say "copy/paste?")

I’m not linking to posts of people who wrote on these subjects apart from the originators. Honestly, it’s only by luck that I’m not one of them. Giving your own take on what other people are writing is a common tactic and I’d be hypocritical if I judged anyone for this. It just happens that I didn’t feel that the topics fit well into my blog.

This is a stark reminder, though, that someone else writing a story doesn’t make it true. The fact that we’re (generally) not professional journalists doesn’t excuse us from a little fact checking. Even if the company doesn’t respond (oh, Target).

Personally, I’m glad I took the time to write to Rogers and get their take when I wrote about their bizarre page-spicing experiment. A lot of other people wrote about it in the meantime but when Rogers replied (badly) to me, I had confirmation that what I’d heard was true. My writing style may be suspect but at least the story’s foundation wasn’t.

Sure, I know the online world is very time sensitive. If you have an ‘exclusive’ and don’t publish it quickly, chances are that someone else will. Really, though, unless you’re in the ‘A-list’ and making a living off your blog, does that exclusive really matter? Even then, integrity should still be paramount. And how many of your posts are really exclusives?

I hope stories like this are exceptions and not indicative of a trend, but I do worry. Blogs have enough of a credibility problem among people who haven’t yet drunk the kool-aid without stories like this shining the spotlight on inaccurate reporting.

In this arena, our reputation and our credibility are all we have. Why risk it all for a few extra visits?

(Photo credit: stevec77)

6 comments
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Jill
Jill

This post is a great reminder of how important it is to check your facts before hitting the publish button.

Though we aren't trying to break news on our company blog, accuracy is always a big priority.

I definitely agree that personal integrity should be considered more important than a short-lived spike in traffic.

Dave Fleet
Dave Fleet

Kami,

Thanks for checking in!

Very true - it's not just bloggers. All forms of media are under immense pressure to get news out as it happens.

Kami Huyse
Kami Huyse

There are so many examples of this, when TechCrunch said that Leopard would be delayed it temporarily crashed Apple's stock.

The issue will only continue to get worse as the mainstream media are also under pressure to get it out fast. It's getting a little formulaic.

Donna Papacosta
Donna Papacosta

I will be there WITH my recording gear. See you then!

Dave Fleet
Dave Fleet

Hi Donna,

I think you're absolutely right and it's true, most bloggers aren't journalists. That doesn't mean their credibility isn't damaged by incorrect stories, though.

Looking forward to Third Tuesday Toronto this week - see you there?

Dave

Donna Papacosta
Donna Papacosta

Great post, Dave. Unfortunately, many bloggers don't check sources because they don't consider themselves journalists. That's how incorrect stories spread like wildfire.