Trust, blogging and journalism

So here’s another thing I’m trying to get my head around:

After picking up on “Anyone want to help design the Birmingham Post website?“, must have felt that I was a credible source. They wrote a story about The Post website and quoted directly from my blog.

It hit me that, actually, that is quite an interesting thing to have done. So much has been said about the danger of blogs being potentially unreliable. Yet something made me quote-able. What was it that gave me credibility in their eyes? Context?

But, whatever it was, it was not enough to give the blog the same credibility in the eyes of Yesterday, they phoned me up to verify what I had written on the web and to ask for more details.

Two interesting points here: One is that I probably would have adopted the same approach as holdthefrontpage. I think I’d be happier speaking directly to the author of a blog, rather than just wholesale lifting what they had said in a post.

Second is that when they phoned me, I clammed up. I took the journalist’s name and number and said I would pass it on to Marc to deal with (which I did).

I guess the upshot is that I didn’t feel comfortable being a spokesperson for The Post or for the website project. The daft thing about that though is I already became a spokesperson by having free reign to blog about it!

There’s something illogical going on here…

5 thoughts on “Trust, blogging and journalism

  1. Coupla things spring to mind.

    The first is that you’re the story. It’s unusual for an employee to be announcing a business strategy over the blog. Quite often that sort of thing will get you fired so that you’re able to do this as part of a large corporation in a very competitive industry is newsworthy.

    The second is that you’re the only source here. Has TM made an announcement? If they have, does it actually say anything useful? Marc sure hasn’t been putting anything out there. More to the point, you’re a human contact rather than the PR machine, which takes us back to the first thing – you’re part of the story.

    Interesting stuff. I wonder what your free reign implies about the situation. That they don’t know what to make of it and therefore can’t control it? Is it a big experiment? Hmm…

  2. Joanna, I think you raise an interesting issue here. One of the points of blogging is having an ‘open conversation’. That doesn’t only mean that people can talk TO you, but also ABOUT you. They can pass your views on to others, so acted in the spirit of the blogosphere by reporting on what you had written. It’s good, of course, that holdthefrontpage took the trouble to call you, but it doesn’t make them ‘better’ for having done so.
    Blogging, by its nature, is about speed and about the mode of transmission, so once something is posted it has, so to speak, a life of its own. Very often I find that we start a public conversation over which we have no further control. earlier this week I posted on the Madeleine McCann story and the commenters had a lengthy argument without any reference to me.
    In your case, the fact that your request was so widely disseminated could only be helpful to you website-building efforts. And I note that you did get some good advice, so it worked.
    Anyway, I wish you well in your work. The Trinity Mirror sites that have been redesigned are looking much, much better. (I like the Daily Record one, for example).

  3. Hi Joanna,

    This is something that I often wonder about when writing pieces and blog posts for

    I was trained as a print journalist so my urge when writing news or feature pieces for the site is to contact the source – as Holdthefrontpage did.

    When writing for our blog, which is where I wrote about your blog, I think my inclination differs – I’m rapidly learning about the differences of writing for online.

    As Roy said there is something about getting the conversation going that quickly (but accurately) lifting elements from another blog can achieve. A blog is a publishing platform, so shouldn’t the writer expect what they say to get picked up and reported on?

    I, like you, am concerned that individual bloggers become spokespeople for their websites/companies and vice versa. For us – as a site which reports on developments in online news – the story was that not only is the website being revamped but that it was being discussed (very innovatively I might add) on the blog of a reporter with the paper.

    I’m interested in the ‘illogical’ aspect too – it sounds almost as if, by not speaking to the HTFP journo (though I don’t like being interviewed much myself!) that you were denying your own credibility because what you wrote had been published in a blog?

  4. I agree with Pete above that the story here isn’t that the Birmingham Post is the nth Trinity Mirror paper to be preparing to relaunch its web site. The story was your role in involving your readers and professional peers in the process on your blog.

    Blogs may be potentially unreliable, but that doesn’t mean we should assume all blogs are equally unreliable. Every experienced blogger who linked to you, including, actually made some careful decisions to assess the risk of linking to you.

    Your blog has several key attributes that suggest that it is actually highly credible: (1) A name that a simple Google search confirms to be that of someone at the Birmingham Post (2) A Trinity Mirror e-mail address as the point of contact (3) A story that is on its face credible, given Trinity Mirror’s programme of overhauling its web sites.

    Short of assuming that you are perpetrating a pretty sophisticated identity fraud on the real Joanna Geary, it’s a very safe bet that you are who you say you are. And given that, you’d be a damn fool to be publishing false, unauthorized claims about what your employer is doing and your role in it.

    I supposed HTFP assuaged themselves of that highly unlikely fear by making the call. But as Roy points out, they’ve done so at the expense of getting their story out fast enough to participate in the conversation as it was occurring in the blogosphere.

    I still can’t see the story on their site, in fact.

  5. Thanks for all the comments they are giving me a lot to mull over.

    My initial thoughts are that my nervousness about the credibility of blogs comes from my training, which did not cover them as a potential news source. Because of that, my understanding of the legal implications of quoting directly from blogs is hazy. Originally I saw them as unreliable and unqualified and so avoided them.

    But as Roy points out, blogs are an open conversation. And, just like any other type of conversation, a journalist can use his/her skills to figure out how credible it is.

    There are countless times when someone has wobbled up to me at an event and has said: “You’re a journalist. I have a great story for you.” Now, 99 per cent of the time they haven’t got a “great story” for me. But I will probably hear them out, just in case.

    So, how would I judge if that person fell into the one per cent I should take seriously?

    Well, I guess, pretty much in the same way Martin judged that I was credible: my identity was corroborated (via Google), I gave out a credible contact address and my story made sense in the context of the industry. So that means blogs are no more or no less reliable sources than any other contact.

    Also in their favour, blog authors also produce a track record with previous blog posts. This helps journalists to build a relationship of trust with a blogger, just as they can with any other contact over time.

    Yet, even so, I would still stand by my journalism training and say that a story increases in credibility with the more sources that can confirm it. You begin from a position of mistrust, so a one-source story is to be treated with caution.

    If I was a journalist writing a story about the Birmingham Post website, I would still have phoned Marc Reeves to check it out.

    But Laura and Roy raise an interesting blogging phenomena. Blogs lend themselves to a culture of fast transmission and discussion of information. Therefore, one-source quoting is far more likely. Laura said that when writing for print she would probably put in some calls, but when writing for the editors blog her “inclination differs”. She is more willing to quote directly from another blog to allow the pace of the conversation to continue.

    (As an aside I think it’s interesting that blogging adopts the attitude of “accurate until proven inaccurate”, whereas traditional journalism approaches it the other way around.)

    So where do blogs stand for a journalist like me? Well, I’m still not completely sure, but I would probably approach them as sources. For stories, a blog post would have to be corroborated, in the way that HTFP did. This is what I am currently doing for a local story written about Birmingham’s Curzon Street Station. Pete, the author, used this as an example of a blog/journalism relationship.

    If, however, I wanted to seek further responses/discussions on a post (that I considered reliable), I would probably quote it directly on a blog first.

    Martin: There’s still no sign of the story on the HTFP site, but I believe Marc spoke to the reporter yesterday (Friday), after I wimped out. Also sorry to have missed your call the other day.

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