Warning labels for journalists — and bloggers

Warning labels for journalists — and bloggers

Journalism Warning Label

Painfully funny “journalism warning labels” created by British comedian Tom Scott are going viral. The stickers say things like, “Warning: This article is basically just a press release, copied and pasted.” Scott says he’s been posting the stickers on the free papers in London. And he’s making it possible for everyone to do this. You can download the stickers for free. Fans have translated them into 11 languages.

“It seems a bit strange to me that the media carefully warn about and label any content that involves sex, violence or strong language — but there’s no similar labeling system for, say, sloppy journalism and other questionable content,” Scott explained on his blog.

Scott’s making a salient point, but I don’t see why it should be limited to journalists. You can find rehashed press releases on blogs, too. That’s what a block quote is for. And contrary to what Scott claims, when I get an unverified tip, I don’t hang up the phone and start writing a story; I check it out. But some bloggers will simply run with it, then add the caveat that they’re waiting for confirmation. If it’s not true … oh well.

I’m not pointing this out to thump my chest and say the mainstream media should be trusted over everything else. But lately I’ve been noticing similarities between news organizations and many blogs claiming to be different from the media. For example, the Washington press corps is often accused of practicing pack journalism. Whenever some official announcement is made at the White House, everyone jumps on it and writes the same thing.

What’s so different about pack journalism in Washington and pack journalism in the blogosphere? Whenever an official announcement pops up from Google in my RSS reader, minutes later tech blogs are parroting it. Pick your niche; the same thing is happening.

The lesson here is that a blogger faces similar pressures and time constraints as a traditional reporter. It’s easy to make sloppy mistakes, to follow the pack, to rehash stale news.

The real challenge, for both blogs and the media, is doing something different, original, and enlightening for readers.

(Photo credit: Tom Scott)