It's Not About Whether Amateur Internet Journalism Is Good Or Bad, But That It Happens And Will Continue To Happen

from the look-forward,-not-back dept

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing among the types of people who hand-wring about these things, that there was a flurry of activity on Reddit and Twitter late last night / early this morning believing that one of the suspects in the Boston Bombings was Sunil Tripathi, a Brown student who went missing last month (and, for what it’s worth, when people thought it was him, folks from 4Chan started complaining that they had done the real sleuthing, and were pissed off that Reddit got the credit — but, now that it turned out to be wrong, 4Chan seems happy to let Reddit take the heat). Alexis Madrigal has the basics of the story, which has allowed the usual crew of folks who hate the concept of “citizen journalism” or whatever it’s called today to whine about how awful “Reddit” journalism is. Defender of legacy newspapers, Ryan Chittum, seemed particularly gleeful in calling out that Reddit “fails again,” and saying that the mainstream media did it right.

Except, that’s ridiculous. Mathew Ingram points out that people attacking Reddit for this are missing the point, which is true by a wide, wide margin. First of all, as he notes, mainstream news folks also got parts of the story wrong. As we noted yesterday, the mainstream TV folks got a hell of a lot wrong. Hell, the NY Post even put the wrong two guys on the cover and falsely claimed that the feds were seeking them.

But the bigger problem is this idea that it’s “Reddit” or, as some people have argued) “the internet” against the legacy media. That’s not true at all. Everyone made mistakes during the rapidly changing story, but only on Reddit did you actually see the details of the process. The legacy news organizations present things as if coming from a place of authority, while Reddit is like an open newsroom where anyone can jump in. The conversation about Tripathi, for example, was about whether or not Suspect #2 was him — it wasn’t based on a declaration that it absolutely was him. Furthermore, when you look at the reason why the story actually spread, it was after some more known “press” names retweeted the initial tweet from Greg Hughes, which claimed (incorrectly) that Tripathi’s name went out on the police scanner (ironically, he posted that about a minute after posting “This is the Internet’s test of ‘be right, not first’ with the reporting of this story”).

But here’s the real issue: people can fret about all of this, but it doesn’t change one thing: this is going to happen and continue to happen. People are naturally curious and they’re going to talk to people when there’s a news story going on and they’ll try to figure things out. That happens all the time in newsrooms already before stuff goes on the air or is officially published. It’s just that the public doesn’t see the process. On Reddit, or anywhere else that the public can converse, it does happen in public. The problem is to assume the two things are the same. Furthermore, it’s even more insane to blame “Reddit” or “the internet” as if those are singular entities that anyone has control over. They’re not. As Karl Bode noted, they’re just massive crowds of people.

An even better point was made by Charles Luzar, who noted that “the crowd doesn’t implicitly profess its empirical correctness like the media does,” but rather admits quite openly that it’s a process in action. Further, he notes that even if the crowd presents false information before finding factual information, that’s still “effective crowdsourcing” and, if anything, provides a greater role to the media to be effective curators of the actual facts.

In the end, it seems likely that this incident will actually help a lot the next time there’s a big breaking news story, because (hopefully) it will give people more reason to be at least somewhat skeptical of stories coming out, but it’s not going to change the fact that groups on various platforms are going to talk about things, and often try to do a little sleuthing themselves. Sometimes they’ll get it right, and sometimes they won’t — just the same as many others. It seems like a much better focus looking forward is in providing more training and tools to help the world be better at it.

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Companies: reddit, twitter

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Comments on “It's Not About Whether Amateur Internet Journalism Is Good Or Bad, But That It Happens And Will Continue To Happen”

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tomxp411 (profile) says:

Pro press is has been?

I think the day of the professional press may be over.

Sure, there are still a lot of newspapers around, but it seems like they’re becoming less relevant for anything but headline news.

What really amuses me is when I see the local TV news talk about a story that I read 6 months ago on Gizmodo or Ars Technica.

Who here thinks that by 2030, newspapers and TV news will basically be nothing but the obvious headlines, and pretty much all real journalism will be blogs and the so-called “amateur” press?

out_of_the_blue says:

Actually, same underlying cause: inexperienced gullible kids,

insufficient cynicism, plus wanting to be first to post — Mike SELLS the privilege to post early here, proving how strong the urge is.

Anyhoo, problem this event is the gov’t hasn’t got a story straight yet. And last night’s alleged “Hollywood-style” car chase and shootout, plus today’s martial-law lockdown, don’t help clarify.

I guess with this post Mike is trying to reduce the correct impression of how ‘awful “Reddit” journalism is.’

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Actually, same underlying cause: inexperienced gullible kids,

Mike SELLS the privilege to post early here, proving how strong the urge is.

Except that he has posted stories that are ages old quite a few times already. As a crystal ball user I see some stories hovering there for ages, possibly to polish them and deliver better, more accurate results.

I guess with this post Mike is trying to reduce the correct impression of how ‘awful “Reddit” journalism is.’

Congratulations on fitting precisely in what the article is condemning. I’ve followed some discussions on Reddit – note I’m using the word DISCUSSIONS, not journalism – and while they got it wrong in the beginning people did proper research and found out even the mainstream media was wrong. Before the mainstream media noticed. So it’s a discussion where a very high number of people contribute to the topic and much like the mainstream media they do get it wrong sometimes. But not you, right ootb? You are right 130% of the time, right?


The Real Michael says:

The mainstream media is entirely owned by six mega-conglomerates with both political and corporate interests. They all serve the same master and have the same agenda so, really, who cares what they think? Mainstream news sources, including television, newspapers and magazines, have watched their ratings/sales shrick and dwindle over the course of the past decade –and for good reason.

As I recall, the FBI was asking for people to provide whatever info they could in helping to identify the suspects, so even if Reddit/4chan were wrong, they still tried to help. The mainstream media is in no position to criticize anyone as they kept making false reports, often predicated on wild assumptions with zero basis in truth (e.g. the bombings were committed by radical right-wingers), then retracting stories left and right during the investigation. The way I see it, they’re IRRELEVANT.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Where we're headed

Citizen journalism is here to stay. But we’ll also have situations like this. And it will be possible to manipulate the frenzy with false plants.

Family Of Missing Student Falsely Named As Boston Suspect Bombarded With Hate Messages – Business Insider: “All the authorities knew he was not a suspect. It was just people on Twitter and it went wild. It was the most horrific experience and I wouldnメt wish it on anybody. These kind of rumours must be corroborated with the authorities, but it was just individuals speculating and radio talk shows. It was the most harmful experience for 18 hours,” he added.

Anonymous Coward says:

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing among the types of people who hand-wring about these things

I have to guess it is you now who is doing said hand-wringing.

Why did you just not say, that people, and news groups, and bloggers will report that they believe to be correct AT THAT TIME.

They are not the police, or investigators, they are just people who are saying what they believe to be true, AT the TIME they say it.

So enough with your hand-wringing, and thanks for pointing out that with rapidly changing news, the news changed rapidly !!! And that the best you can do is say or report when you believe is true at the time you say it.

And be willing to ‘update’ what you say at any time to reflect that simple rule.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Or maybe research for accuracy of what you are going to say if you boast the authority these mainstream news outfits do.

Why did you just not say, that people, and news groups, and bloggers will report that they believe to be correct AT THAT TIME.

The article screams that all along. Except that Reddit doesn’t pretend to be right all the time like the news groups love to do. And they are not doing journalism, they are having discussions.

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