As a source for good, the web informs and enlightens. A recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Internet & American Life Project in partnership with John S. and James L. Knight Foundation found the web is the top source of information for Americans ages 18-39.
Being a print journalist, I was relieved the Pew study found the Internet tied with newspapers as a top source for news on housing, schools and jobs. It should be noted this report found newspapers aren’t dead yet; newspapers are still considered to be a top source for news on community events, crime, taxes, local government, arts and culture, social services and zoning and development, according to Pew’s 2011 survey.
I just don’t trust everything I read on the web, particularly blogs. I prefer the old-fashioned opinion page, where readers write letters to the editor. People who write letters to the editor have the courage and the grace to identify themselves. By doing so they own what they say, and take responsibility for their words. The same can’t be said for all blogs.
As a reporter, I must be cautious about the websites I use as sources. We are tasked with pursuing the truth, and to report events in a fair and balanced manner. Bloggers are not held to the same standards.
I learned at an early age how swiftly rumors get started. And once they start, they can travel far. Remember the telephone game? Children sat in a circle and whispered a secret from one child to the next. The last child who heard the secret told it aloud. Invariably, the information was drastically altered from the original.
This is why I avoid getting tangled in gossip, whether in the real world or in cyberspace. There’s a Jewish proverb that says, “What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t witness with your mouth.” Philosophical cowboy Will Rogers said, “Rumor travels faster, but it don’t stay put as long as truth.” Poet Alexander Pope said of gossip, “And all who told it added something new, and all who heard it made enlargements too.”
Still, it amazes me how blogs can take on a life of their own. A series of conversations posted on blogs can spark investigations into potential wrongdoing, mushroom into movements, even fuel revolutions. However, I have a problem when accusations not grounded in fact are permitted to fly. The worst offenders are those blogs that routinely layer a grain of truth with falsehoods. Some blogs are run by responsible parties, individuals or groups who monitor for accuracy and demand the people who comment maintain a sense of decorum. Other blogs are developed to allow uninhibited discourse. I think there needs to be a balance; allow folks to have their say without fear of reprisal but also ensure individuals and organizations aren’t libeled.
Don’t be seduced by the dark side of cyberspace.
Denise Etheridge is a staff writer for The Catoosa County News. She can be reached at 706.935.2621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.