Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Attention, Bloggers: Demand for Readership and Web Traffic Doesn’t Excuse Lazy Reporting

The web has become a crucial tool for independent journalists and bloggers to draw attention to stories not being covered by the mainstream media. We now have endless educational resources at our fingertips and the internet gives everyone a voice, but that does not mean every person is an expert on every subject.

As a Journalism major, it warms my heart to see more people involved and engaged with the news thanks to the internet. On the other hand, it is extremely disheartening to see bloggers, freelance writers, and even well-known journalists partaking in lazy reporting just because they can.

child journalist

“Thanks to the internet, anyone can be a journalist! Even me!” …Not so much.

Timeliness has always played a major role in determining newsworthiness, but it’s not the only factor. The number one rule in every journalist’s code of ethics is to “seek the truth and report it fully.” News aggregators, journalists, reporters, and bloggers cannot, should not, and must not forget that ever-important principle. Anything less is simply bad journalism.

Yes, it’s true that increasingly people want information on-demand. However, in the race to be the first site with the inside scoop, accuracy is lost. One site reports a story based on an anonymous tip, and it’s not long before dozens more sites jump on it and run with it.

For example, take CNN and FOX News’ Obamacare coverage flub, the recent Daniel Tosh drama, or – on a lighter note – the casting of Finnick Odair in the upcoming The Hunger Games: Catching Fire film. In the first case, both news organizations pushed to be the first with news coverage before they actually researched and understood the verdict. In the second case, bloggers and news sites all caught wind of an inappropriate joke made by Tosh at a comedy club as reported second-hand by a blogger who wasn’t even present for the performance. Lastly, numerous gossip and media sites have been reporting “official” castings for the role of Finnick, all quoting the same “exclusive source.”

In a recent episode of HBO’s “The Newsroom,” the show dealt with the issue of reporting a story before confirming the information with a credible, official source. Nothing captures the dire need for accuracy in reporting better than this scene based on the news coverage surrounding the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in 2011:

As you can see, you simply can’t sacrifice official, on-the-record facts for viewership. You can’t trade integrity for clicks. Ad revenue will never replace thorough, accurate reporting.
It is much easier to wait and report the facts fairly and accurately than to report them wrong the first time and then have to back-track. You may not end up being the first to break the story, but you will certainly become the most credible. And which would you rather be? The one with a short-lived high volume of traffic right when the story breaks, or the one everyone goes to consistently once they’ve realized the other guy didn’t have their facts straight?

sleeping journalist

Journalists have plenty of time to sleep at their desks when they’re not doing any real work!

Your readers do want more information more immediately than ever before, but they shouldn’t have to surf through dozens of articles all citing the same anonymous source, random blogger, overheard conversation, or off-the-record inside scoop in order to find the truth. Do you really want to stand out among the countless news sites and blogs popping up every day? Stand up and become a trusted, reliable, accountable source for news and information.

If the internet has provided an infinite amount of resources and outlets for a reporter’s voice to be heard, it has also created unlimited methods to connect with industry officials, certified experts in any field, and brand, celebrity, or media spokespeople.

You can find a phone number for virtually anyone online. Pick up the phone and interview an official expert or spokesperson on the subject before you run your story. Can’t find a phone number to call? At the very least I guarantee you can find at least one e-mail address if you try – keyword being try.

Whether you are reporting on breaking national news, hyper-local, industry specific news, or entertainment news, please get your facts straight first. Bloggers and reporters, please stop abandoning truth and facts for clicks and traffic. Consumers of news, please stop falling for it and tolerating it when they do.

What do you think? Have you witnessed any other media blunders recently? What else do you think reporters can do to stand out in a sea of lazy journalists?

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  1. Jana Quinn

    I wish this was taped to every computer in the world. I think the first-is-better-than-correct approach in lazy journalism is seen all over the place, in the having-something-even-if-it’s-wrong-is-better-than-nothing approach to marketing. I’ve seen tons of terrible half-started blogs attached to otherwise seemingly decent companies. I may have been interested in that company’s business, but their abandoned blog or silent Facebook page makes me wonder about their follow-through or if they’re even still in business.

    Also, your point about establishing yourself as a credible source of information translates well in the marketing world. If your blog headlines are provocative but deceptive or boring or useless, you may get tons of clicks but your conversation rate will plummet as well your role in your industry as a resource.

    And that’s my rant. Great post. 🙂

    • Jenna Markowski

      Very good point, Jana! It’s true that this same kind of lazy follow-through carries over to marketing pretty frequently. It’s probably even more of an issue on that end because many marketers have no interest in actually informing people, they’re really only looking for sales.

      What you point out about clickable headlines paired with boring/useless content is so true. I can think of a few sites off of the top of my head that I’ve stopped reading because that seemed to be the case more often than not.

      Thanks, Jana! 🙂

  2. Eric

    The trouble really stems from the double-edged sword that the internet is. Anyone with a computer and an opinion can think himself a writer, nowadays. Then again, they didn’t need the internet to make the monumental “Dewey Defeats Truman!” screw-up that turned out to be. Nothing worse than writing without research behind it…that said, I rarely if ever consult blogs for news or information. Most of the time it winds up being telephone-game hearsay that’s far from the actual truth. Alright. Could go on a rant, going to hold myself back on this one. You get the idea, and – suffice it to say – preaching to the choir on this one, Jenna. 🙂

    • Jenna Markowski

      Very good points, Eric. It’s true that anyone can consider themselves a writer, and it’s also true that even the big guys can make mistakes! All in all, everyone just needs to be more aware of what they’re reporting to the public.

  3. Jay

    I have witnessed recent news blunders, that’s why I watch Fox News Channel. I get my actual information from people who are concerned with facts and all that good stuff. We actually started a drinking game for it! Every time they lie or use hyperbole, we take a shot (do NOT play this game during Fox and Friends, Megyn Kelly or Hannity, it gets ugly, quick, trust me). I’m usually passed out in about 30 minutes (unless Shephard Smith is on, not sure how his ethical ass got a job there).

    • Jenna Markowski

      Haha, that sounds like an awesome (and dangerous) drinking game! I definitely agree that things could get deadly if you play during Fox and Friends. Yikes.

  4. Kelsey

    Great post, Jenna! I think this is an important topic to touch on. Now that I am writing blogs it is important for me to pay attention to these kind of things, so this blog really helps me out. Thanks girl!! 🙂

    • Jenna Markowski

      Thanks, Kelsey! I’m glad you found this post helpful! 🙂

  5. Jill Tooley

    Thanks for pointing this out, Jenna. I’ve noticed the issue as well, and it bothers me a lot!

    Lack of article sources is another problem I’ve run into lately. Writers and bloggers, if you read another source to get info for your article, then you should probably say that somewhere. Don’t just omit it and pretend that you’re the first to think of it! I read an article about the Millennial generation today (boo, I know) that stated a year range, but didn’t say where that data came from. I’m sorry, but am I really supposed to just take their word for it? With all of the mismatched year ranges in articles already, the last thing the internet needed was one more. Ugh! Now, other articles are probably going to cite that one, and so on and so on, until it’s one big game of “Telephone” and the message is completely different. This is how facts get all screwed up.

    That “Newsroom” clip was an excellent example! I always try to verify credibility of my sources, so I don’t end up making a claim that someone at a celebrity gossip column pulled out of their behind. However, what do you do when it’s a credible site like NPR? Who’s checking THEIR facts? What a scary thought…

    Anyway, great blog! 🙂

    • Jenna Markowski

      I totally agree, Jill. With information so readily available, it seems as though writers and bloggers treat outside sources as though they are all in the public domain. But reciting someone else’s work and acting as though it’s your own is the definition of plagiarism, and as you’ve mentioned, leads to unsourced, mish-mashed information.

      Definitely, that clip just goes to show that even the most credible sites can mess up. With a credible site like NPR, ideally they have the resources to check and double check their work, and even if they’re wrong can go back and update their information immediately — so generally their work will be more trustworthy and thorough than a blogger. It is scary though that technically they are responsible for checking their own facts.

      Thanks, Jill! 🙂

  6. Mandy Kilinskis

    This is especially worrisome from bigger news stations and entertainment sites. Not only do they look silly when they get news wrong and have to back-track, but they are also wasting valuable time and resources when they write and publish false news.

    As a reader, I would definitely rather wait to hear the whole, complete story instead of three stories that are all refuted less than 24 hours later.

    Also this Finnick casting madness is out of control. I feel like there should be a ban until Lionsgate goes on record.

    • Jenna Markowski

      You are definitely right, Mandy. For bigger news organizations this is a more pressing issue, as an individual blogger probably has less followers and definitely has less resources, so they’re not expected to be as credible. However, if bloggers are going to present their stories as fact, then they should still be held to a similar standard.

      I agree about the Finnick casting, but at least we got Johanna Mason confirmation! 🙂

  7. Rachel

    I think back a lot while I’m writing to the teachers and professors who ingrained in me the importance of having sources to back up your claims. There was one professor I had who wouldn’t allow you cite something in a paper unless you had at LEAST three peer-reviewed sources that all confirmed it. I hated that class, hah! But it taught me to pay attention to sources, and to the reliability of those sources.

    And you’re so right about quality vs. being the first to report something. I may see those first headlines, but usually I’ll wait until one of the big newspapers reports on the whole story before wading into the details. Excellent post, Jenna!

  8. Jeff Porretto

    Bill Gates says, “I always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job because he will find an easy way to do it.”

    Please note that he DIDN’T say that it’s ok for that laziness to create complete unreliability and the spread of misinformation that ultimately results in the dumbing down of the population.

    It’s like the whole media world is that guy who writes “First! LOL!” at the top of every comments section on crappy websites. Nobody likes that guy…

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