A comeuppance. That’s how I describe the recent Gawker-Gizmodo-iPhone theft debacle. What the organization in question did – paying cold, hard cash for what was ostensibly stolen property – was plainly criminal, and those behind the act are now being held accountable.
One would hope that such a well-publicized incident would serve to temper the blogosphere’s appetite for sensationalism. The spectre of illegal or immoral actions leading to very real consequences (including the potential for jail time) should be enough to give Gizmodo’s contemporaries pause. However,I fear the lesson has already been lost on a community that fashions itself as the “anti-media,” but which runs for cover behind so-called “shield” laws designed to protect the real journalists they so often mock.
And make no mistake: Bloggers are not journalists. Real journalists have ethics. They check their facts and follow well established rules of conduct: Don’t fabricate; don’t obfuscate; don’t steal. Most high-profile bloggers, by contrast, follow a looser, “shoot first and ask questions later” philosophy. It’s all about beating the other guy to the punch by being the first to break that big scoop.
Note that I speak from experience. As InfoWorld’s most successful blogger throughout 2008-2009, I spent much of my time trying to tap into the industry zeitgeist. And while my marching orders frequently came from above – “trash this, promote that” – it was left up to me to figure out how to best implement that editorial vision.
I chose the persona of “Randall C. Kennedy – Industry Curmudgeon,” but at no time did I ever fashion myself a true journalist. Rather, I was just some guy with a poison pen regurgitating supplied opinions on the latest hot topics – a cog in a new media machine who’s sole purpose was to feed an insatiable appetite for page views.
But despite my well-documented self-loathing, it wasn’t until I was on the receiving end of a blogger-led new media assault that I realized just how far removed I was from the shores of professional journalism. In fact, as I watched ZD Net’s Larry Dignan and crew fabricate, obfuscate and steal my reputation away from me, I felt like I was staring into a mirror.
The tables had turned. The shoe was on the other foot. I had gone from victimizer to victim, and my eyes were finally opened to just how violent the blogosphere had become. Never mind that Mr. Dignan’s smear campaign has since been discredited (his subsequent retraction and acknowledgement that our Wall Street clients do in fact exist and continue to use our software to this day was most touching). The damage was done, and Google will see to it that his fabrications long outlive his credibility.
As will mine – and every other high-profile blogger who has abused their position to promote an agenda. We’re all guilty of “playing journalist” while thumbing our noses at the rules of the game. But the Gizmodo case signals a new low in the blogosphere’s storied history of unethical behavior.
Sensationalism, smear campaigns and now outright criminal activity. I’m glad I’m no longer a part of that community, and I hope the authorities seize this opportunity to teach the industry a lesson by throwing the book at those involved.
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