When WSJ Flunks Internet History, Blogs Step In To Educate

from the but-we-need-to-support-newspapers dept

We hear over and over again from traditional reporters how we need to "protect" newspapers and how, as newspapers fail, no one can step in and replace them -- especially not "new media" like blogs. In fact, we're told how newspapers are "trustworthy," but blogs are "amateurish" and prone to hyperbole and errors. It's a common story told over and over again -- especially by those supporting the idea of paywalls and the like. In fact, we wrote about yet another such example just recently. And yet... it seems that we just as frequently hear about newspapers making big mistakes, and blogs stepping in to correct them.

Today's example involves the supposedly venerable Wall Street Journal, who posted a column by former publisher L. Gordon Crovitz, trying to claim that the internet was really invented by private companies, without much government support. Except, of course, that's false. Ridiculously false. Thankfully, we had blogs to step in and debunk many of the factual errors made by Crovitz. Quickly into the breach stepped Steve Wildstrom at Tecpinions, who pointed out that Crovitz's version of history was way off and then Tim Lee at Ars Technica, who went even deeper in showing how Crovitz mangled the history.

Among the many, many errors in Crovitz's piece were the claims that Tim Berners-Lee (no relation to Tim Lee above) "invented hyperlinks." He did no such thing. He invented the web, which came long after hypertext and hyperlinks were well known and well-established. He also tries to downplay Arpanet, and worst of all pretends that because Vint Cerf (with Bob Kahn) invented TCP/IP, that it shows it was done without the government's help. He, of course, leaves out that both were employed... by the government. It also plays up the importance of ethernet, invented at Xerox PARC. This was a big deal (and I even have a photo of the first ethernet connection that I recently took on a tour of PARC), but that was for local networks and not "the internet."

To be fair, this is the opinion pages, not the reporting pages, but the WSJ is supposed to have a pretty high bar for getting facts right, isn't it? And I would assume that applies to the opinion pages as well. Of course, what's interesting is that Crovitz has a history of this kind of thing. A couple years ago, we wrote about another piece by him which misattributed a quote of mine to someone else's and then took three days or so to post a correction. This Crovitz piece has added one correction at the time of my writing this, but only for (another) misattributed quote (Crovitz apparently didn't realize that he was quoting a blog post by Tyler Cowen quoting someone else and attributed it to Cowen). Everything else is still in there.

Of course, even more ironic in all of this is that Crovitz helped found Journalism Online -- one of the leading companies pushing newspapers to set up paywalls, arguing that newspapers need people to pay, or all good reporting will go away. Everyone makes mistakes. It's not limited to either newspapers or blogs. I don't mean to pick on Crovitz or the WSJ in particular here (even though the mistakes in his piece were both plentiful and easily cross checked). It's just that the idea that newspapers have some sort of "lock" on factual, objective reporting -- whereas newfangled "blogs" are chock full of misinformation -- is an inaccurate position. Yes, there's plenty of misinformation spread on various sites, but the same thing shows up in "traditional" media too. The point is that the wider ecosystem seems to be pretty damn good at highlighting those mistakes (even if the WSJ is then very slow to correct them).

Filed Under: blogs, history, internet, journalism, l gordon crovitz, reporting

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  1. icon
    Cory of PC (profile), 23 Jul 2012 @ 1:49pm

    Well you are right that we do make mistakes. As a writer, I occasionally make mistakes when I write and I'm working on improving the quality of my work by doing my research and brushing up on my grammar. Granted even if I improve, I will make some mistakes and I am willing to improve on them.

    What baffles me is that even if Crovitz believes in the whole "newspapers are professional, blogs are amateurs," wouldn't it hurt to open up the search engine of his choice and type in "history of the Internet?" I checked Google, Bing and Yahoo and found plenty of sites that provides some information on the history of the Internet. So let me guess here: is it...

    1) he was on a deadline to not do the research,
    2) a little (or too) lazy to put some effort into the research,
    3) didn't want to put any effort in his search,
    4) actually did some research but got a wrong source, or
    5) any combination of the above.

    My money's on Option 5.

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