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
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.