Three ways bloggers regularly beat traditional journalists when it comes to reporting standards

The usual complaint is from mainstream / traditional journalists that bloggers don’t meet standards of reputable journalists. However, there are three respects in which I think that bloggers repeatedly show higher and more ethical standards than mainstream journalists.

First, honesty about where a story has come from. Too much of the traditional media still uses twee phrases such as “it has emerged” as code for “one of our rivals has reported that…”. In comparison, it’s pretty rare for the source of stories taken from other outlets not to be acknowledged by a blogger, complete with a link.

Second, transparency over re-writing. There is a lot of variation amongst bloggers as how they deal with mistakes, stories that fall apart and so on, but again compared with traditional media it is much more common to see an open and transparent approach, with the use of strike through in particular.

This is one area where the traditional media are catching up as, on their websites you increasingly do see notes about subsequent edits or revisions. However, there are still many stalwart hold-outs against admitting that a story was changed. Oddly, the BBC News website is one of these. Although the BBC has generally been pretty good when I’ve approached them about an error, for example, the correction has always been made ‘invisibly’ with no way for someone to know that a change has been made.

Thirdly, a grown-up attitude to reporting opinion polls. Different polling companies have different methodologies so it’s sensible to compare like with like and look at the shift in support compared with the previous poll conducted by that polling company. What isn’t sensible is to ignore a previous poll done by the same company just because it was published in a different media outlet and instead go for a little game of make believe where you compare your poll with the previous poll you paid for, as if the rest of the world doesn’t exist.

Possibly the bizarrest display of this at the moment is over at The Independent, where the same firm is used to provide polls for both the Sunday edition and the Monday-Saturday one. Except that if it is published on a Sunday, the previous Monday-Saturday one is ignored when printing vote change figures, and if it’s published Monday-Saturday, the previous Sunday one is ignored.

Again, if you want high standards that inform the reader – bloggers beat traditional journalists time after time when it comes to giving sensible context for polls.

The traffic isn’t all one way when it comes to comparing standards, and there’s plenty of variations amongst both bloggers and traditional media – not to mention overlap between the two – but there’s plenty traditional journalists could, and should, learn about presenting information clearly and usefully.

UPDATE: I should have included a fourth key area: bloggers usually give much more prominence to corrections that mainstream media. On blogs, a prominent post that’s wrong gets corrections in that prominent post usually. In the printed media, a prominent story gets a correction buried away in a much less prominent location frequently.

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