In a post on Positive Liberty, Jason Kuznicki addresses some criticism he gets from Timothy Sandefur, a former Positive Liberty co-blogger. He quotes from Mr Sandefur’s complaint:
There is a sort of person who strangely relishes such accusations to the degree that they will immediately believe them without awaiting indicia of credibility. Such people may not enjoy the substance of the story, but they so enjoy whacking what they think is a mole that they’ll bang away at anything that moves.
Detaching this from the Sandefur-Kuznicki feud, on which I have no opinion to state, I see that it brings up an interesting question: To what extent do (or should) bloggers have a responsibility to “await indicia of credibility”? Are bloggers subject to the expectations of independent verification of information that we have for “real journalists”? Should we be?
Blogs differ, of course, in how they handle this. For my part, I prefer to cite a source when I comment on something, and I try to find the source that I consider to be the most credible. If I see something on another blog or on an obviously biased “specialist media” site (say, a radical liberal news site), I’ll look at the source they cite, if there is one (often there isn’t), or try to chase down a credible source myself. There’ve been times when I’ve found something interesting enough to comment on but of questionable origin, and I’ve said in my comments that I’m uncertain of it. And sometimes the information available is incomplete or sketchy, and I’ve said that too, noting that with more complete information I might have a very different opinion of the situation.
I usually don’t cite multiple sources, unless they each provide information lacking in the other, or give interestingly different perspectives. But I often do look at multiple sources when I’m writing an entry. And I certainly do if my first source isn’t one of my favourites, or if the item seems suspicious.
On the other hand, blogs aren’t newspapers, and commentary isn’t news, so I believe there’s some latitude. At the same time, readers won’t be happy for long with a blog that spews uninformed comments. I certainly wouldn’t be happy writing such comments.
That said, there has been, and will continue to be, value in having a portion of the public that jumps on things right away. Yes, they might be leaping before they look, and they might be carrying on about something that turns out not to be as it seemed on first report. But they draw it out in the open for all to see. They make it harder for things to hide. And that might be worth the occasional embarrassment.
I think it’s valid to criticize bloggers, in general, for being lax in this regard, but I think that in the end, bloggers choose for themselves, and readers will tend to read, trust, and enjoy those that are more rigorous about it.