I read this post that has essentially single-handedly convinced me that the AP Style guide is just that. A guide. You see, while going through journalism school, I treated it like scripture. The grammar, spelling and capitalization guide of the journalists deities.

But since then, I’ve softened my stance. And now I am fully prepared to acknowledge that its email (not e-mail), website (mot Web site) and that I have to type out Washington.

Yes, I am finally entering the modern era. Read on for the post from April that helped push me over the edge…

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Posted in PR

I would like to welcome TechCrunch to the world of actual journalism. Find a story, verify info, interview sources, write story, fact check, publish, repeat.

Here’s the quick background: TechCrunch obtained multiple documents from an alleged hacker who had broken into Twitter employee’s email accounts, Google Documents (There’s a reason it’s not compliant, but that’s a different issue) and other documents and information. TechCrunch verified w/Twitter and its lawyers the accuracy of the documents and even interviewed them. Then they published some of the documents. They were even kind enough to redact personal information.

Journalism 101

From the days of muckraking and yellow journalism, obtained documents have been one of the best sources of great information for reporters. The methods and tactics used to acquire these documents range from the legal (Washington Public Records Act, Federal Freedom of Information Act) to the potentially unethical.

But here’s an important step that separates journalist from sensationalist: The journalist attempts to verify the information before publishing. The Sensationalist does not.

As a holder of an actual, real-life journalism degree, I sat through hours of press law and have filled out my fair share of information requests. I have also obtained information through anonymous sources or obtained information in other ways. And I used those documents. But after verifying on my own.

The right to publish

Now, the debate over whether or not TechCrunch should have published or not is broken into two parts:

  • Is the information newsworthy?
  • Is the information “off limits?”

The newsworthiness discussion is for another day. I am focused on the ethics involved in publishing the documents. TechCrunch absolutely acted within the boundaries of accepted journalistic ethics in publishing those documents. If it had simply published the entire .zip file without making an attempt to check facts or redact personal information, it would have been very out of line.

Instead, it looked for the information it deemed “newsworthy” and ran with it. To recap, it verified the information with Twitter, attempted to elicit on-the-record comment from Twitter and published the information that was applicable to the story it accompanied. TechCrunch even solicited comment from third-party companies named in the documents.

One could also make the argument that Ev and Biz and some of the Twitter team are “Limited Purpose Public Figures.” This means that some of their information is subject to federal and state open records laws and that their expectations of privacy are a bit different than the average citizen.

In this case, the combination of a good journalist and a good lawyer are difficult to beat.

Should they have published

Well, in my opinion yes and no. If TechCrunch wants to use this as a standard for applying journalistic ethics to its reporting (coverage?), then great. But the fact is that TechCrunch is a blog. Its writers express opinion and insert themselves into the stories they are writing. Independant sources are a rarity, as is interviews with the subjects they’re writing about.

I’ve written about the difference between blogger and journalist before, and I think it is completely applicable here. And this gets right to the heart of the debate. If the New York Times had published those documents, would we have even flinched?

I’m sure my opinion is different than some, so tell me what you think.

A blogger writes a blog. A blog contains information, opinions, links and emotion.

A journalist brings life to factual occurrences. Presents actual, recorded history with zero subjectiveness. And yes, they act with an absence of malice.

Can a person be both? Of course. But not at the same time. In my opinion, blogger and journalist are mutually exclusive and any attempt to blur that line only results in that person losing the “journalist” label in favor of the “blogger” label.

On blogging

I’ve been sitting on this for a bit and every time I see a blogger such as Michael Arrington or Marshall Kirkpatrick referred to as a “journalist,” my journalism degree loses a comma. But I watched as Chris Brogan (and, by association eMoms, 1938Media and others) get raked over the coals because he took a payment in the form of a gift card to put up a post whereby he, wait for it, gave away a gift card.

So, what is a blog? This is a blog. I make no attempt or representation that anything I produce is a fact. In all honesty, if I’m not writing pure opinion or heresay, then there’s no fun in that. My only “facts” are links to others who generally agree with my opinion and that is questionable at best.

A blog is a place where people share their experiences, opinions, dreams and failures. Sure, people can report on things and cover breaking “news.” But they are still blogs. They provide a second layer, which is analysis and opinion. This removes any chance of the label of “journalism” being applied.

On journalism

Journalists and reporters do a great service to our society. I have worked as a reporter and have a BA in journalism, so you can guess where my bias leans.

Newspapers stay in business through advertising and that is the traditional source of income for bloggers as well. So, can online journalists survive this way as well? Of course. Google AdSense and other advertising platforms can provide an income (and let’s be honest, journalists make next to nothing. Full disclosure: my first reporting gig paid me <$19,000 per year. I got laid off after three months) and eliminate the need to participate in pay per post programs and paid reviews.

It is possible to be an online-only journalist.  The posts follow journalistic ethics and attributes information and even includes quotes. But by inserting a subjective opinion, the writer eliminates the assumption of objectiveness. And this does everyone a disservice. But one thing is important to note, here — Journalists are real people. They have a brain, they know a ton of information and when they do share an opinion, a lot of respect and weight is behind it. Sometimes real people can’t contain their opinions and they leak out. Such is the danger with objective practices.

Journalism is an art, talent and skill. And I think that true journalism is fading away as more and more people move into content creation and blogging. I am all for people getting online and sharing their thoughts, opinions and distributing them. But do it under the auspices of blogging and not journalism. Please?