I’m Mad as Hell About Reprehensible News Sourcing

Maybe I should move forward with plans to launch site “Journalism? What the Fuck?” BGR’s irresponsible reporting (again) is so disgusting I could scream. Actually, I did. Today’s miscarriage of reporting could be a case study supporting the key takeaways from my March 2010 primer “The Difference Between Blogging and Journalism“. If you report news in any form, you should also read “Report! Don’t Repeat Rumors!“, posted 5 months ago.

BGR post “Report warns Apple might be facing a huge iPhone 6 Plus recall” is more than irresponsible, it’s reprehensible. Blogger Chris Smith sources a Business Korea story that makes the recall assertion, which should be corroborated. He offers no additional, or original, reporting, while using a source that makes claims based on absolutely nothing. 

Puke-Me Sourcing
The BK story, without byline, brashly states: “Some in the industry think that if TLC flash is indeed the cause of the defects, Apple might recall all of the products that have been sold so far”. But the author(s) don’t say whom, instead sourcing, without even linking, Apple Insider and Business Insider reports about flash-memory problems. That’s no sourcing at all.

In my “Blogging and Journalism” post I identify a problem then that is much, much worse today. BGR bloggers take notes:

Using a single source is often careless. Referring to another blog or news source as single source is reckless. Reporting news based on a single, anonymous source is negligence. Good journalists are mindful of their sourcing, particularly those sources who aren’t identified. One rampant problem: The increasing number of unnamed single-sourced blog posts or news stories that seemingly countless other blogs link to. Gossip and rumor runs amok masked as news. Let me be clear: Just because everybody is saying some true doesn’t make it that way. It’s my observation that most rumor posts remain uncorrected when later proved to be wrong.

Sourcing is one of the most important topics of my book Responsible Reporting: Field Guide for Bloggers, Journalists, and Other Online News Gatherers. In a hypothetical illustration of bad sourcing process and its spread:

Reporting accuracy starts with responsible sourcing. Today, there is too little of it. Scan the web or social shares, and a clear pattern quickly emerges. Blog A reports that military veterans born after 1992 aren’t eligible for separate health insurance because they are young enough to be covered by their parents’ plans, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Sourcing is anonymous.

Other blogs report on the story or write full synopses, crediting not an original source but another site. Many links do not go back to Blog A, but to some intermediary blog referring to the first. Along this process of linking, there is little—and often no—follow-up reporting. The writers are a bunch of lemmings chasing the same thing. Later, the veteran health-care story turns out to bogus, but the news record stands, perpetuated by linked posts, without verification or correction.

BGR commits a crime against accuracy by sourcing a story that makes claims with sourcing no clearer than “some in the industry”. iPhone 6 Plus recall would have enormous financial, logistical, regulatory, and sales ramifications for Apple. So the report asserting it better damn well be accurate, particularly considering other blogs are likely to source BGR or BK without doing any additional reporting. It’s a vicious virtuous circle of sloppy sourcing. There is no excuse for it. Excuse me, while I puke. Again.

Pageviews for Crack Lint
You lazy motherfuckers (finally I let it out), you destroy trust in everyone’s news reporting because there are so many of you spilling sewage like this piece-of-crap BGR report. Four days after my “Blogging and Journalism” analysis post in 2010, someone commented on a BetaNews story: “The ‘media’ is a freakin’ train wreck these days. You’re all a bunch of desperate panhandlers willing to sensationalize crack lint if you thought it would advance your readership”.

I disagree: Not advance readership, but pageviews. The reader’s sentiment is nevertheless spot on, and nearly a half decade later stays with me. Sites like BGR feed off the Google free economy, which subsists based on clicks not readers. Problem: There is too much content to support with advertising, so rates plummet and sites seek any means to boost traffic that brings in ad dollars. In my book, I warn:

The Google free economy casts dark shadows across the news landscape, as advertising revenues per website recede, and the amount of free content increases. Reporting standards weaken in pursuit of pageviews and higher search ranking. So-called linkbaiting and news aggregation lead writers to stray. Rampant rumormongering replaces factual reporting. Tech industry coverage is a glaring example of rumor too often masquerading as news.

It’s a bloodbath; accuracy is the murder victim and readers are the wonted next of kin. Blogs and news sites run like hamsters in a wheel. The majority chase sustainable advertising revenue they can never catch.

The full text provides corroborating data and knowledgeable sources about advertising’s real value, or lack of it. The business model is broken.

What the Fuck?
Someone must stand up for responsible reporting, and I wonder about taking a role. In August, I registered domain journalism.wtf, with the idea of starting a site calling out the best and worst news reporting. Disgusted by a Business Insider post, I almost moved forward last month.

What I’m thinking now: Launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise $20,000, doing little promotion in process. I want to gauge interest in a website like “Journalism? What the Fuck?”; there may be none. The Kickstarter will help me see how the social sphere responds and to raise seed money to set up the site and support me during the startup period. If the campaign fails to fund, I will assume there’s no demand for the site.

Long-term goal: Let readers contribute many of the posts, which I would edit, and in the process communicate good news reporting and reading habits. If readers learn what crap to look for, because too often it’s wrapped up pretty-sweet, they’re better empowered to demand responsible reporting or go where it is.

I would host with WordPress.com, which already has confirmed there would be no service violations using “Fuck” in the site title. Library and school filters would likely penalize journalism.wtf and perhaps even Google search, to which I say “What the fuck?”—meaning I don’t care.