A few months ago, when the shutdown of the Internet in Egypt was still big news, I received an email update from a favorite blog. It contained a link to a blog post that reminded me about the difference between blogging about the news and news news (also known as journalism).
The blog post had this title: “Syria Lifting Five-Year Ban on Facebook.” It came from an excellent social media blog and the topic seemed important for social media advocates and enthusiasts. So I clicked on the link and went to the site. Because it was breaking news, I nearly clicked on the share links for Facebook and Twitter before I read the article (never a good idea). But the first sentence stopped me:
Syria is in the process of lifting the five-year ban on Facebook.
Then a quote from a Syrian magazine:
Syrian authorities will lift a five-year ban on Facebook as of today, Forward Syria can confirm.
Then another sentence:
While we cannot confirm or deny the reinstatement of Facebook in Syria, I’m sure it will be huge news once it happens.
That’s when it hit me that non-journalist bloggers who are not “on the scene” may write hints, suggestions, or predictions of news events (and lots of rehashes afterward), but they usually don’t report the news. Actually, I already knew this, but I guess I needed a reminder.
I don’t see anything ethically or even technically wrong with the article, and I don’t fault the bloggers. I fault myself. If I’d read the title more carefully–or critically–I would have realized that the verb “lifting” was carefully chosen so as not to imply that it had happened. The lesson here is nothing new: always examine your source.
I hope professional journalists and news outlets will thrive in the 21st century because we can’t get actual news from average bloggers and tweeters. They (and “they” are “us”) definitely help spread the news, but we need professionals to find it, verify it, and report it.
P.S. After I wrote this post, several interesting blogs appeared discussing journalism and social media. Here are a two of them: