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Conservatively liberal, moderately well-educated, and highly opinionated...

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Ethical Blogging and Katrina

Two months ago, this blog (among others) was "called on the carpet" by the
Columbia Journalism Review for “pouncing” on the MSM. My impression (then and now) is that I came under fire more because I was one of the first to publish a reaction to the Times-Picayune’s then-shocking revelations than because I had actually attacked the MSM. I was a convenient target.

I rebutted almost immediately about why I had a problem with the reporting… and then (like most other bloggers), I moved on. I still stand by that rebuttal; the damage was enormous. Having opened the can of worms, however, I've been negligent in my follow-up, and it’s time to fix that.

The American Journalism Review is carrying
an excellent article by Brian Thevenot (of the Times-Picayune) about journalistic ethics and the Katrina reporting, in which he said:

But what's curious about much of the criticism is that reporters from the dreaded MSM often did a more thorough and sober job of correcting mainstream reports than did their sworn enemies in the blogosphere. Indeed, because most bloggers do little or no original reporting, they used my story about myths, along with those of the L.A. Times and New York Times, as the tools with which to beat us about the ears. They clubbed us with our own sticks.
He’s right. We did club them with their own sticks – or at least to some degree I did, and although I doubt Brian Thevenot will ever read this, I need to apologize to the Times-Picayune. Specifically, I’m sorry for calling them “small time”. That may have been true before Katrina, but since then, they have risen to astounding heights; I certainly don’t consider them small anymore.

Additionally, I can sympathize with him when he writes
Immediately after our story broke, we found ourselves making the rather jarring transition from reporter to source

I understand this profoundly. Right after the storm, Polimom Says… went from being a small blog with a targeted readership to over 20,000 hits a day. There was no other “news” about the area I was focused on, and I blogged nearly 18 hours a day for 9 straight days when I realized this.

Until that happened, I had never felt such weight of responsibility. Even parenthood pales in comparison. It taught me a lot, and even now that the spotlight is less-tightly focused on my blog, I try to always keep in mind the potential impact of my words.

There's more to this, though. The MSM may have produced the grist, but the blogs were part of the mill for the Katrina hype and hysteria – including my own.

Did I contribute to the hysteria after Katrina? Yes, at least once that I am aware of. Interestingly, that particular blog entry was carefully crafted, in hopes of getting some security into an isolated (and apparently forgotten) part of New Orleans. It worked, too, because the very next morning saw the troops roll into Algiers. However, it was also a very scary piece, because although it was fundamentally factual, there was a fair amount of hyperbole. I was called out immediately by one of my readers, who commented:

please do not post speculation.
people are worried enough.

That was a definining moment for me, when I realized that I was, in fact, writing with incredible impact. My reader was absolutely right, and I never did that again.

Mark Tapscott blogged yesterday that it’s high time for some self-examination and discussion about this in the blogosphere. I think he's right, and this is my attempt to do exactly that.

These days, I've reverted to more "classic" blogging - opining and interpreting other "news". However, my responsibility for what I write is undiminished. It has to be, and if readers are going to trust me as a valid and ethical information source, I can hardly hold the MSM to a different standard.


  • At 7:16 PM, Blogger Schroeder said;

    Extremely busy today, and I barely eeked out my own post, but I read this earlier today and was very impressed. I wish that blogging (and other alternative media) had people who COULD go out and be primary news gatherers. Unfortunately, most of us have day jobs. It's hard enough getting through a day of stories and putting together a post. But I think that's okay. Just as the press is supposed to keep tabs on the government and the rest of society, this country needs people who watch the increasingly corrupted press. Good work.

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