Who Can You Trust?

“I would trust a citizen journalist as much as I would trust a citizen surgeon.”  Morley Safer

I agree with Mr. Safer, the 60 Minutes correspondent who has forgotten more about journalism than most current “newspeople” have acquired. 

This was my initial problem with blogging.  I read so much inaccuracy, hearsay and rumour online that I didn’t want to, frankly, lower myself to that standard.  As a person who has made a living in small j journalism for a couple of decades, I pride myself on fact-checking and source resourcing before ever spreading information.  There are certain responsibilities that arise with presenting yourself as a hub of info and too many bloggers and reporters are skipping those steps and getting right to the not-so-reliable goods.

I’ll give you a very lowbrow example: tabloids. How many cover stories have been devoted to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie breaking up?  Dozens, I’ll bet. (Let’s not even consider the age-old question of who cares, because this crap obviously sells papers so…the point is moot!) 

The oft-quoted Wikipedia offers thousands of instances of potentially error-riddled stuff. Regular folks write postings about anything and everything.  In broadcasting, it’s expected that you’ll post a bio of  yourself on Wiki!  (If you find one of me there, it’s not my doing!) It’s certainly a commonly used resource but a potentially dangerous one.  Posters are supposed to keep each other in check by reporting errors but it’s non-journalists policing other non-journalists. 

When Ted Danson came to 680 News and we chatted while taking photos, I mentioned the Cheers set that’s recreated at a museum in Hollywood and how the tour guide told us that, “We don’t have the pool table because Ted Danson wanted it for his rec room!”   Danson laughed out loud and said that not only does he not have the pool table, he’s read all sorts of misinformation about himself on www.imdb.com and Wikipedia.  You have to know that these nuggets of non-news take on a life of their own, if they’re interesting, and the next thing you know some tour guide is telling a lie to hundreds of people a day.  A harmless lie, sure, but a lie all the same.

The brother station of 1039FM, AM980, does it right.  They solicit Citizen Reporters.  Listeners can call in tips or news items which are then vetted and checked by the station’s reporters and verified for accuracy. Joe Listener doesn’t go straight to air with potentially mistaken information. 

There’s a beauty in the freedom of allowing everyone with access to a computer to have their say but I think there’ s a danger in every one of them believing they’re “journalists” when they may just be people with opinions on half a story, or a story based on a lie.