Rumor romp

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Today, Spillman and Ford debate the distinction between credentialed and non-credentialed media. Later this week, they'll discuss sex scandals, the function of breaking news and more.

That ain't news By Eric Spillman
Luke,

You and your blogger buddies have shown that you've become an important force in local news with the story of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's affair. But you guys also put out a lot of rumors too. And that's not really journalism.

Let me first give you credit. It was your blog that scooped everyone back in January by reporting that the mayor was no longer wearing a wedding ring. The Los Angeles Times followed up on that with a story that included the now-infamous excuse from the mayor's aides: The ring no longer fit because he had lost some weight.

Then, several weeks ago, after the mayor announced that he and his wife were separating, some local blogs began posting anonymous reports that he was having an affair with the Spanish-language newscaster Mirthala Salinas. It was something people had suspected for awhile, and yet no mainstream media organization carried the story. Then, finally, a Daily News reporter obtained an interview with the mayor's mother-in-law and was able to get the mayor to corroborate the rumor. After that, everybody else followed.

So the independent blogs pushed the traditional media outlets in town to report news they probably should have reported earlier.

Congratulations, bloggers, for getting the big, slow giants to do their jobs.

However, some of you folks also posted a lot of other stuff that was just plain gossip. Names, rumors and scandalous scenarios were thrown around in the blogosphere. I read lists of "potential" mayoral girlfriends.

Much of this could not be (or has not yet been) verified. Not that you gave it much of an effort!

For some bloggers this is no big deal. They circulate accusations from anonymous sources without even bothering to try to confirm them. If the material turns out to be wrong or defamatory, so what?

That makes for some fascinating reading, but it's not the same thing as real reporting, and it's no substitute for credible journalism.

The rumors need to be checked out, which takes effort and time. When someone's reputation is at stake, don't you have a responsibility to be careful?

Luke, I know you believe that you are part of a revolution that's taking place. Media barons no longer control the flow of information. Anyone with a laptop can be a reporter.

But I hope there's still a place in journalism for trusted, reliable brands. To me that means, as my first boss lectured, "We don't report rumors" and "It's better to be late on a story than to get it wrong."

Eric Spillman has been a reporter for the "KTLA Morning Show" since 1991. He blogs at ktla.com.


Atoning for my sins By Luke Ford
Dear Eric,

If my hands are not covered with blood, then they are covered with a filth that will never go away. It's my fault that I'm such a shoddy journalist, but I never could have hurt so many innocent people without blogging. The horrible things I've done online would never have happened if I wrote for a high school newspaper, let alone a professional news organization:

  • In April 1998, I confused "Catalin" for "Kaitlyn" and incorrectly posted to a newsgroup that a certain actress had tested HIV-positive.
  • In numerous online postings in the spring of 1997, I ran paragraphs of quotes published by others without attribution.
  • I repeatedly taunted my esteemed colleague Michael Louis Albo (in addition to plagiarizing a few of his jokes), provoking this mild-mannered gentleman into first dumping my ass out of his car in Boyle Heights, then smacking my head into a lightpole in Beverly Hills and finally dragging me around a parking lot in Chatsworth while delivering a lecture to me on journalistic ethics.
  • Not only have I repeatedly slept with people I blog about (and sometimes borrowed money from them), I've gotten many of my best scoops while horizontal.
  • I've made up stories about businessmen in the San Fernando Valley, costing them sleepless nights and a lot of money. In my mind, what I was doing was constitutionally protected satire, but many of my readers didn't realize the difference between my reporting and my cruel attempts at humor.

Eric, you don't have to convince me that bloggers are dangerous. Out of the more than 50 million blogs online, I'm sure that fewer than 1% are reliable journalism. But in the information game, there is something more important than journalism — and that is merit.

If tomorrow I break a story by violating every journalistic principle, but it is an important story containing new information that positively affects thousands of lives, then I've done a good thing, even if it is bad journalism.

Individual bloggers, just like news organizations, develop reputations. For instance, if I'm reading ERSnews.com or LAObserved.com, I'm reading something every bit as reliable as the Los Angeles Times. If I'm reading an anonymous comment on mayorsam.blogspot.com, then I have to compare what I'm reading to everything else I know about the subject and then make a judgment.

I've never been a blog triumphalist. I've never pushed people to read blogs. The smart person will read a blog when it is to his advantage to do so — meaning that there is information there that he can find nowhere else.

You're a general assignment reporter. You can't be expected to have the depth of knowledge that thousands of bloggers out there have on their niche.

When bloggers get a story wrong, they can be sued for defamation just like any print journalist. I know. I've been sued five times. (One of those suits was dropped, and another was thrown out. One was settled when my insurance company paid $100,000, and the other two were settled when I deleted some content from my site without making a retraction.)

Luke Ford of lukeford.net has earned his living from blogging for a decade. He's the author of five books, four of them self-published.

Next day's Dust-Up >>
Day 1  |  Day 2  |  Day 3  |  Day 4  |  Day 5

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