By paulgillin | January 17, 2008 - 6:35 am - Posted in Fake News, Layoffs

Mother Jones has another one of those opinion pieces by a journalist who is outraged – outraged, I tell you! – over the loose editing and poor fact-checking of citizen journalism. In this case, the villain is the Tallahassee Democrat, which published a popular blog by a local PR person whose topics sometimes touched upon issues that related to her clients. In one anecdote highlighted in the piece, the blogger supported a proposal to build a Wal-Mart near town while her firm was doing PR for Wal-Mart.

Well, shame on the Tallahassee Democrat, and shame on the blogger, but please no shame on citizen journalism. The problem here is that the newspaper chose to feature prominently someone whose profession should have raised warning flags and then didn’t fact-check her work. In a true citizen journalism environment, the blogger would be subject to community fact-checking, which would have quickly identified her conflicts of interest. She also wouldn’t have enjoyed the unfair advantage of the newspaper bully pulpit. She’d have to earn respect and trust on her own instead.

In attempting to trash citizen journalism, this article actually does the opposite. It highlights the risks of the hybrid models now being tried by mainstream newspapers as they desperately seek a viable business model. Take the newspaper out of this story and there’s, well, no story.


Adam Weinstein, author of the Mother Jones article, responded to my comments via e-mail:

“Read your comments about my Mother Jones piece, both on their site and your own blog, and I just wanted to say: I couldn’t agree more. If I had it to write again, I would want to stress that the problem is not with citizen journalism, but with one particularly offensive media corporation’s attempt to co-opt it. They were less interested with understanding the open system, or with improving their responsiveness to community issues, than with cutting corners every step of the way.

“My gut says that print organizations can partner with citizen media and better use the Web, but that might require a greater degree of editorial vigilance, a tough pill to swallow for both (justly) free-spirited bloggers and (unjustly) penny-pinching newspaper publishers. But there’s a whole lot more Stacey N. Getzes out there, and until the mainstream media and readers grow to understand exactly how citizen journalism polices itself, a lot of Stacy Getzes are going to give bad names to both the ‘professionals’ and ‘amateurs.'”



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