TechCrunch was fooled today into posting a false story that facebook now offers faxing of photos. It’s a funny story and well executed by facebook. But it also made me wonder if this would not have been successful against the NY Times or another traditional media outlet with a solid reputation.
After years of experience in the craft of journalism and the budget to create operating manuals, the NY Times learned how to fact check, calls sources and generally try to make sure that they were not getting “punked.” I fully realize that the traditional media is far from perfect. Whenever I have been close enough to a story to really know what is going on, I see how much of an approximation any reporting is. But combared to new media, The NY Times is generally much more careful.
In my mind, TechCrunch is a well run, mainstream blog. I don’t think many blogs do a better job of being journalists than they do. Nevertheless, they were fooled in a way that I think mainstream media would not have been.
I love new media. I love that information moves at the speed of light and there are many more voices. I love that the barriers to entry to becoming a journalist are practically zero and that all citizens are essentially now journalists through twitter.
But at the same time, it is clear that new media does not have the budget or inclination to do the type of carefully fact-checked investigative journalism that has traditionally made up the the 4th estate.
Maybe it does not matter; maybe first-party fact checking is replaced by the immediacy of online media. That the story only really lived for a few hours and hit much earlier than it would if it had been carefully confirmed may be good enough. Perhaps the Internet is just one big voting machine that collectively checks, edits, and rewrites what any one person says, much like wikipedia.
But if that is the case, then we as citizens must ready everything with just a little more skepticism. After all, maybe we are the first one to read it, and hence expected to correct it.