‘We Are Web Journalists’

Three days ago I laughed hysterically at Nate Dern’s Funny or Die post “The First Rule Of Web Journalism Is You Don’t Fact Check Web Journalism“. This poke-in-the-gut missive is so close to the truth, I almost couldn’t chuckle. The second rule is the same as the first, by the way.

Snippet:  “The eighth rule of web journalism is that if it’s too good to be true, you have to post it. The story goes up. It goes viral. It’s revealed to be fake. The apology goes up. The apology goes viral. You forget about it in a day and we’ll do it again in a week”. Funny because it’s true! 

I linked to the post on Google+, and Leonard Sultana responded:

It struck me when I started up my San Diego Comic-Con website that I was now a web journalist—the more interaction I had with fellow sites, the more the topics this piece covers came up in conversation. I set out and promised myself that I would never post a rumour, that I would only ever put up confirmed news with sources.

However, as this piece describes, even sources are like smoke nowadays and the pressure is on to keep traffic flowing. The next twelve months are going to be very interesting for me, so see if I can keep up my resolve.

I replied:

Stepping away from the humor for a sec, it’s all about objective. Do you write for Google search or people?

If people, you want to build and keep their trust. Newspapers and broadcasters have long published or aired rumors, based on their actual reporting. The difference today, in web journalism: Second-, third-, or even fourth-hand sourcing. “The Pearl Earrings and Cosmetics blog reports that an asteroid will strike the earth at 7 pm EST today”.

Write what you know to be true in the moment, based on original sourcing, and you rarely can go wrong. If the source is an amateur astronomer who has a record of finding celestial bodies first then write the rumor story. The rumor will generate more leads, and even NASA response.

That’s called Process Journalism, which often starts from a rumor you can originally source, and is perfectly suited to using the Internet to further the storytelling. Even if that rumor is Comic-con moving to somewhere unbelievable like Kansas City. Your sourced story pushes the reporting forward. Someone else knows something.

Leonard was traveling at the time, and might still be, and expressed interest to continue the conversation later. If so, I will update our exchange here.

As for this post, I appropriately close off the Funny-or-Die thing by adding: The last rule of web journalism is there are no rules in web journalism.