Independent Christian Voice

Sunday

In light of OU Bombing coverage, columnist claims blog hysteria does real harm

From an op-ed piece in today's Boston Globe:

ON OCT. 1, a tragedy shocked the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman: 21-year-old engineering student Joel Henry Hinrichs III killed himself with a homemade bomb while sitting on a bench about 100 yards away from the university's football stadium, packed with 84,000 fans. Since then, this sad event has mushroomed into a story that touches on some important and controversial issues: vigilance and paranoia in the age of terrorism, and journalistic ethics in the age of the ''new media."

Within days of Hinrichs's death, a number of Internet websites were speculating that he had planned to blow himself up inside the stadium -- and that he was a radical Muslim terrorist. Blog headlines screamed, ''Jihad at the University of Oklahoma?" and ''The Oklahoma Suicide Bomber." Bloggers demanded to know why the mainstream media were ignoring the story, and some supplied a ready answer: The liberals in the media were afraid to ''offend the gods of political correctness" -- as syndicated columnist and blogger Michelle Malkin put it -- by calling attention to Islamic terrorism on US soil.

…This is not an issue of ''mainstream media good, blogs bad." I love blogs; I've had one myself for the past month. I think ''citizen journalists" can do a great job complementing the mainstream media, providing much needed outside fact-checking and analysis, and in some cases newsgathering as well. It's not a matter of credentials, either: One of the worst offenders in flogging the ''suicide bomber" story, Malkin, is a professional journalist.

…If the ''citizen journalists" want respect, they must hold themselves and one another to higher standards of accuracy.

> Read entire piece
As a former journalist, I'm all for maintain high standards of accuracy. However, most bloggers that I read were asking more questions than simply acting as reporters of fact. There were some who were perpetuating rumors as facts, but you get that with any form of communication. But it is the responsibility of media sources that claim to be journalists and news agencies to maintain these high standards of accuracy and journalistic integrity in their own communications. Given everything that has happened in the last five years in the field of journalism, it's a little disingenuous to be criticizing "citizen journalists" when there have been so many egregious lapses of standards amongst professional journalists in recent years. "Citizen journalists" are lay journalists, few of whom have studied journalism standards. These so-called "citizen journalists" will be judged by their accuracy by their readers, just like other commentators (including bloviating radio talk show and cable news network show hosts) are. People will determine if they believe what the see or hear and determine if the source is worth coming back to. It's the part of "free exchange of ideas" that gets tricky. With such a "free exchange" you'll get ideas with lots of merit and some with very little merit. It's up to the hearers of such ideas to judge it for themselves. We can' arbitrarily set standards as to what is acceptable ideas in such a "free exchange." I agree with the general premise that people should be careful with what they say, and that people like Malkin who claim to be professional journalists should hold themselves to a higher standard. However, holding the average "citizen journalist" blogger to that same standard is unrealistic and unreasonable.

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