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Beware of Bloggers

There's a Difference Between a Reporter and Blogger.

By Thomas J. Roach

Newspapers and television news broadcasts are not the dominant source of public information that they used to be. More and more we are turning to the internet where bloggers compete with journalists as sources of news. A blog is an internet page that is updated weekly, daily or even hourly with new information.

Traditionally a quarry spokesperson addressing a zoning or safety issue would contend with the local newspaper and one or two broadcast news stations. Now the spokesperson must also be concerned with potentially hundreds of individuals in and outside the community who run blogs, and dealing with bloggers is not like dealing with reporters.

Reporters have training in how to research and write news stories, and they have a strict ethical code that must be followed. This makes them somewhat predictable and even manageable. Bloggers have no training, no code, and no predictability.

While the reporter has to cover at least two sides of a controversial issue and must write the story without inserting his or her own opinion, the blogger is under no such constraints. The only side that needs to be addressed in a blog is the blogger’s.

Another Blog
The best response to a blog may be another blog. The blogger attracts readers who are searching the web using key words. If the company has its own blog and addresses the same issue as the blogger, then both blogs will show up anytime a search is conducted, and readers at least will have an opportunity to see both sides of the story.

Not all bloggers are sinister. Another way readers will see both sides of the story is through blogs that are following the rules of objective journalism and reporting on news that is generated by other blogs. If the company blog is up to date, its information may be quoted along side other bloggers’ information, in what is essentially an on-line news story.

Reporters work for publishers and broadcasters who have to sell newspaper advertising or air time, so if they get something wrong, they need to acknowledge it and print a correction in a later edition or broadcast, or they will lose readers and viewers and eventually lose money. It costs nothing to run a blog, so the blogger has no accountability to readers and advertisers. That is why blogs often beat traditional journalists in breaking news. A reporter has to verify a story before reporting it; a blogger does not.

Another important distinction is that traditional reporters of news have to cover all the pertinent issues in the community. A story about a mining company receiving a safety citation from a government agency does not compete well with stories about murders, layoffs and political scandals, so it probably does not get covered. A disgruntled former employee of the mine, however, could make mine safety issues the only subject of a blog and keep updating it indefinitely with real or imagined information and opinions.

Dealing with bloggers, then, is different than dealing with journalists. You will not get a call asking for the company’s side of the story. They are not likely to print retractions if they get their facts wrong. And they will laugh at you if you tell them their information was colored by opinion.

In fact, making any statement to a blogger is risky. Reporters have rules about on and off the record comments, using quotes only if they have them clearly written in their notes, and not taking things out of context. Bloggers have no rules. The only sure thing about talking to a blogger is that it will legitimize the blog and make it more likely to attract the attention of web surfers.