This Is Ironic: Reporter Cites Bogus WSJ Stats To Claim Bloggers Are Untrustworthy

from the how's-that-working dept

Earlier this week, the blogworld spent plenty of time analyzing a ridiculously bad WSJ "article" by pollster Mark Penn about the number of professional bloggers and how much they make. Having been in the "profession" for about as long as anyone, it took one glance to know that the number he was talking about didn't even come close to passing the laugh test. It was so silly that I didn't even think it was worth posting about it (beyond an offhand comment on Twitter). However, plenty of others went through the numbers and pointed out how ridiculous they were. Scott Rosenberg and ReadWriteWeb are two examples of bloggers doing a great job digging into the numbers and showing how Penn's number aren't even close to accurate. There's also a separate issue about why the WSJ is allowing a PR guy like Penn to write an article presenting him as if he were a regular journalist, but we'll leave that aside for now.

However, (and here's where it gets funny), another mainstream source, Bonnie Erbe, of US News & World Report, used Penn's report to write an article trashing bloggers. And yet, pretty much everything she accuses bloggers of doing, she or Penn do themselves:
They are the technology age's equivalent of reporters and columnists, but without the degree of separation that used to protect readers and consumers from being targeted for commercial or political purposes, that old-fashioned edited newspapers and magazines used to (and to a limited extent, still do) provide.
Hmm. So, it's the bloggers who are sneakily providing commercial or political messages... and not Mark Penn, a political pollster and corporate PR flack being able to write his own biased, poorly fact checked and often just incorrect article in the "prestigious" Wall Street Journal? And Erbe simply believes this professional spinmaster over those who actually have some knowledge and experience with what he's talking about... and then claims it's the bloggers who are likely to write for commercial or political purposes? Wow.
The problem is, veracity is deleted and placed in the trash bin. Unverified opinion is taking its place. Well-written, fact-checked opinion has a storied place in journalism history. But off-the-cuff, on-the-take opinion does not. Yet there is much more of the latter on the Internet than the former.
Yes, again, she seems to have gotten it exactly backwards. In this case, it was the WSJ article where "veracity" was deleted and placed in the trash bin, replaced by Penn's unverified opinion. Meanwhile, the well-written, fact-checked opinion came from (oops) the bloggers she now accuses of not doing it.
The column goes on to say that the way to generate traffic to an Internet site is to make it as outrageous as possible. "Outrageous" on the Internet usually comes in one of two forms: 1) pornography or 2) wildly unsubstantiated, extreme opinions.
Hmm... wildly unsubstantiated, extreme opinions like "Internet, Bloggers' Half-Truths Are Killing Newspapers and Journalism" (which happens to be the title of Erbe's writeup here...)
The fact that, as Penn discloses, some bloggers are making as much as $200,000 per year and many of them are doing so by shilling for companies or selling consumer goods is downright scary. Consumers need a filter. They need to know if someone is saying something just to grab one's attention, or touting a product because that person is being paid by an advertiser to tout it.
How much does Mark Penn make shilling for companies? Isn't that scary?
I used to be friendly with a woman who quit a high-level job at a cable news organization because she insisted on the old "two source" rule. That rule, observed by all reputable news organizations, insisted that no one could publish or broadcast a source story, unless that story was confirmed by two independent sources. The cable network wanted to put on air stories based on information from one source and she quit rather than comply. How old-fashioned of her!
So, let's see... Erbe bases this entire article on a single source (which was proven wrong by multiple other sources) and "goes to press" with it, and then says that "all reputable news organizations" observe a "two source rule," which she totally ignores herself. How new media of her!

Honestly, reading her complaints about bloggers and realizing she commits every single one of them, while missing out on the fact that it was the "bloggers" she dismisses who actually provided the credible analysis and reporting on this story, would make me think that her piece was pure satire. But, looking over her other columns, it doesn't appear that she's the satire sort of person. Or perhaps I'm wrong. I haven't checked that with two sources, so clearly I'm part of the crew that's destroying journalism. But I'm sure fond of irony.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Tgeigs, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 11:09am

    hahahahahhahahahah

    Ms. Bonnie Erbe...You have been Maz'd. Please don't try again.

     

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    mobiGeek, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 11:31am

    But she HAS two sources...

    But she has two sources: Penn and herself!

    Here's a news show (CBC's Newsroom) that I should have paid attention to.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 11:34am

    "It was so silly that I didn't even think it was worth posting about it ..."
    then you write one of your longer posts - that what we like about bloggers; they're so truthful.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 11:42am

      Re:

      In English, we call that past tense. Idiot.

       

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      Easily Amused, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 12:52pm

      Re:

      Reading comprehension is your friend...

      Here's an exercise that may help. Read the first paragraph again. Try to figure out what the "it" you quoted was referring to. I'll wait.

      Got it? good... Now go on and read the rest of the post again. Try to identify the subject of Mike's criticism in this section.

      Got it? Okay, now here's the trick... Did you come up with two different answers? If not, either start at the top again, or refrain from posting again, anywhere, ever.

       

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    Bobby McDoogle, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 11:40am

    I am not in love with Mike, but...

    I am not in love with Mike, but DAMN, he is sooooo good at kicking these idiots to the freakin' curb.

    Keep rocking it Mike!

     

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    oxymoron, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 11:40am

    proves my point

    This is exactly why I am seeking new news sources and trying to avoid "established" old media. Even the BBC has become a regurgitating tool of the press releases.

     

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    Overcast, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 11:58am

    Bloggers untrustworthy? At least they have something in common with the old Media then.

    Of course, on blogs at least the facts can be debated; it's not like they are posted as incontestable facts to which no dissenting opinions will be heard - like in say.... a newspaper.

     

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    DesignSmith, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 12:05pm

    media is media - poor quality is poor quality

    The real problem for old media outlets is not new media outlets, but the declining quality and increasing cost of old media content.

    My subscription rates continue to go up while the cost of production has come down and yet the content within seems to have more errors and faults than some elementary school homework.

    Blogging, Tweets, RSS feeds, and more might have been just passing tech fads if the quality and value of traditional media had not declined so much.

     

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    NullOp, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 12:39pm

    Blogging

    C'mon...blogging is opinion. It exists for Joe Schmoe, no offense intended to the real J.S., to put his opinion out there for the world to see. It could even be mistaken for journalism but its basically opinion or point-of-view. Lets remember what BLOG really stands for....

     

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      Tgeigs, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 1:14pm

      Re: Blogging

      Blog = Web Log, no?

      Admittedly, I'm a layperson when it comes to some of this stuff, but what am I missing in the meaning/etymology of the word?

       

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        Eclecticdave (profile), Apr 24th, 2009 @ 4:28pm

        Re: Re: Blogging

        @Tgeigs

        A "Web Log" is exactly what it sounds like ... a personal log/diary/journal of someone who is prepared to allow their thoughts, opinions and/or random ramblings to be read by the public.

        It seems to be a common mistake for some Journos to assume that bloggers are somehow trying to be amateur Journos but that is hardly ever the intention of any but a tiny minority of bloggers.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 12:56pm

    Murdoch's Tabloids

    Thank you for bringing this article to my attention. In what has been an incredible error, not of facts or reporting, I've been receiving the WSJ for free for the past three years.

    I've brought this error to the attention of the subscription people, who tell me that I am no longer subscribed. So it seems to be some sort of a billing problem, and I continue to get the paper, somewhat unwillingly.

    As any reasonable person may conclude, said paper is not read anymore, but instead immediately recycled, used as kindling for a warm fire on a cold winter night, or to coat the bottom of my two Gang-Gang Cockatoos birdcage, Mary and Mort. These are a fascinating breed of Cockatoo that are native to Australia.

    But the story had me curious. I searched for the Tuesday edition of the Murdoch-Street Journal, and was disappointed that it wasn't in its usual place. The Monday edition was there, and I was relieved that it had not been recycled. However, when it came to the article, it wasn't there. It had been warm the past few days so no fires had been started, and no need for kindling.

    Then I looked at the birdcage. I was certain that it couldn't be there because I thought I used a paper from a week ago, but surely enough, it was found at the bottom of the birdcage. Imagine my surprise! The article in question was right above the birdseed bowl that hangs from the left side of the cage.

    I attempted read what I could, but the droppings made it difficult to read the whole article. My Australian Friends made it quite difficult to read.

    Nonetheless, I read what I could, nonetheless leading me to say, "Sir, you are right!"

     

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    Lucretious, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 2:28pm

    I doubt any of this will faze Erbe. Read the titles of her past pieces and you'll see this kind of ultra-left alarmist garbage is par for the course with her.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 6:06pm

    how are their numbers wrong?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 6:25pm

    i don't think there's anything wrong with the WSJ article

    they're saying you need 100,000 monthlies to make $75k/yr. that's 1,200,000 visits per year to make $75k. that's only only a .0625 CPM. and if you knew anything about mass web 2.0 CPMs, you'd know that most of the big sites make .05 - .10 CPM. add on product placement and the likes, i don't see that number so far off.

    add in the fact that if you have decent traffic, you can get off adsense's abysmal rates and can get into federated media (even techdirt uses federated), rates go up to about $5 CPM. granted, not all of your ads will run at that much, but still.

    the problem is that there are very few individual bloggers who get 100k monthlies.

    and he's totally right about sensational fact-lite reporting just to get numbers. techdirt and arstechnica are incredibly sensational all the time (in fact, both of them royally fucked up the whole thing about StarDock's recent game launch, and neither knew any of the facts).

    and techcrunch flat out makes shit up just for the page views. in fact, techcrunch has such a bad rap for the bullshit that they spew that arrington gets death threats and people have spit in his face in public. go look at any of the threads where they said facebook got hacked (it was a wiki page in the developers section -- hell, even TC could have done it), or where they said lastfm voluntarily handed over listening data to the riaa to find out about pre-leaked albums, or where they said google was going to buy twitter.

    it's all bullshit, and they're realizing that just reporting fact intensive information doesn't make a lot of money. it's why bill oreilly and keith olbermann have higher ratings than PBS.

     

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      Mike (profile), Apr 24th, 2009 @ 7:37pm

      Re: i don't think there's anything wrong with the WSJ article

      they're saying you need 100,000 monthlies to make $75k/yr. that's 1,200,000 visits per year to make $75k. that's only only a .0625 CPM. and if you knew anything about mass web 2.0 CPMs, you'd know that most of the big sites make .05 - .10 CPM. add on product placement and the likes, i don't see that number so far off.

      Heh. Check your math. It's a CPM of $62.50.

      Tell me how many sites get a CPM of $62.50 with a full inventory sell out?

      Then you can admit that maybe you were wrong. You could also apologize for the insult, but I doubt you will.

      add in the fact that if you have decent traffic, you can get off adsense's abysmal rates and can get into federated media (even techdirt uses federated), rates go up to about $5 CPM. granted, not all of your ads will run at that much, but still.

      Which still doesn't get you anywhere near $75k.

      Here, I'll do the math for you:

      100,000 page views/month is $500 at a $5 CPM. That's... oooh, $6,000/year. Not quite a living.

      the problem is that there are very few individual bloggers who get 100k monthlies.


      We get a *lot* more than that. And we make more than $75k from ads, but I can tell you that the numbers in the story are totally wrong. Totally wrong.

      and he's totally right about sensational fact-lite reporting just to get numbers

      This is wrong. Our business model isn't based on traffic at all (ad revenue is a small component of our business, and one we don't pay much attention to -- hence outsourcing it). We believe quite strongly in the importance of getting the story right, and NOT being sensationalistic.

      in fact, both of them royally fucked up the whole thing about StarDock's recent game launch, and neither knew any of the facts

      Um.... this is simply not true, but if you're going to be wrong, why not go whole hog and be totally wrong on everything you write.

      Funny stuff, though. I'm going to assume this comment was satire... proving that anonymous *comments* on blogs aren't exactly trustworthy.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 8:40pm

        Re: Re: i don't think there's anything wrong with the WSJ article

        bleh, i will admit that the numbers are off by a factor of 1000 so my first point is wrong. i do concede that his numbers are shit.

        however, you're comparing my statement of hits per blogger against your entire site. you have at least 4 writers, some more active than others. for each one to make even $50k/yr blogging (which doesn't include health insurance), you have to bring in $200k/yr less company costs (mostly hosting). if you had a very steady $5k CPM, that's 40m hits/yr at 3.3m/month.

        either way, my final point still stands. techdirt had even less non-rhetoric than the ars article, and if you look through the comments on the ars article, the author got utterly destroyed. numerous people called him out for incorrect reporting and sensationalizing things. techdirt didn't even state whether or not Stardock used cd-keys (which it does, and any real reporter would have found that out). neither ars nor techdirt even knew what actually caused the outages other than "pirates". the author at ars revised his article a number of times throughout the day to not look like a total idiot, but they left the comments up. instead of techdirt reporting on actual facts, you guys basically ran down your regular talking points.

        as for the TD business model, i have no idea what you guys do. you've claimed here that you're not consultants. your freelance "insight" listings are way too sparse and the payouts are way too small for you to be taking a livable cut. you clearly don't sell a product, you say you don't sell analysis, and you say you don't make much off ads. so what do you do for a living?

         

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          Mike (profile), Apr 26th, 2009 @ 1:31pm

          Re: Re: Re: i don't think there's anything wrong with the WSJ article

          bleh, i will admit that the numbers are off by a factor of 1000 so my first point is wrong. i do concede that his numbers are shit.


          Considering that was the basis of your ENTIRE comment, I would think that you're basically conceding your entire post was shit.

          however, you're comparing my statement of hits per blogger against your entire site. you have at least 4 writers, some more active than others. for each one to make even $50k/yr blogging (which doesn't include health insurance), you have to bring in $200k/yr less company costs (mostly hosting). if you had a very steady $5k CPM, that's 40m hits/yr at 3.3m/month.

          We've already established that you're bad at math. Continuing to prove that doesn't help your cause.

          As for the rest of your post, we've said quite clearly that we're not reporters. We wrote our post based on what Stardock had said at the time, and the comments clarified the situation. That was great -- exactly the intended purpose of Techdirt. What's wrong with that?

          As for the business model of Techdirt, our business is obvious to anyone who takes the time to actually read. So, not only are your math skills bad, but your reading comprehension skills are bad as well. You have a habit of making really bad assumptions. That can't be good for you in life.

           

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    Bob Chapman, Apr 25th, 2009 @ 11:46am

    WSJ is now Murdoch

    So, how long did it take for Murdoch's journalism values to infect the WSJ? Less than a year?

    Just because bad journalism exists in "traditional" media doesn't mean the traditional media is necessarily bad. Or, that there are some bloggers that hold to good journalism doesn't mean all new media is necessarily good.

    It seems that, whether old or new media, the issues are always somewhere in the editing and fact checking.

    Old media better beware when they cut the traditional safeguards becausing of "costs." If you do, we may have trouble telling your old media source from a new media source. All your discussion points go away.

    New media should employ the older safeguards, even if it means you will report the story second rather than first. Reputation is more important than speed, as this WSJ article demonstrates.

     

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    Mark Rosedale (profile), Apr 27th, 2009 @ 9:00am

    needless dichotomy

    I love how she boils down "Outrageous" to two forms and pornography is one of them. Seems to me, of course this is unsubstantiated, that some of the biggest internet phenomena which generate traffic are neither pornography nor extreme opinions. But maybe that is just me.

    "The column goes on to say that the way to generate traffic to an Internet site is to make it as outrageous as possible. "Outrageous" on the Internet usually comes in one of two forms: 1) pornography or 2) wildly unsubstantiated, extreme opinions."

     

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