When bloggers become reporters, or commentators, how far and in what way should they check the facts? I bumped up against this issue in a small way following my post about circuit writers, and it has made me think about the bigger question of blogger as.... well, not quite journalist but perhaps blogalyst. Part blogger, part analyst and part catalyst as Ross Mayfield terms it.
First the small issue. I spotted an article about UK government funding for nonprofit technology support, and over-interpreted it to suggest circuit riders were going to get a large slice of the £10 million in prospect - writing "Circuit riders scoop the funding pool". An email or two later (though no on-site comments) I realised my mistake, added a 'maybe' to the headline and inserted an updating explanation to the post. I also dropped a message into the circuit riders list saying what had happened, and asking for any further clarification.
Today I got a friendly call from one of the members of the consortium behind the bid, offering to meet and give me the full story, and I gladly accepted. More on that next week. I hope it will be a chance to help promote collaborations between the various interests that are circling around the funding pot.
Now the bigger issue. I confess that my headline was prompted in part by my understanding from other sources that circuit riders are seen as front runners for major government funding - though I didn't spell that out. So - should I have checked before blogging? First thought - yes. When I was a print journalist I certainly would have done so, or written a more cautious piece.
But I then thought how difficult it would become for organisations if every blogger started to ask for confirmations, quotes and so on... and how uninteresting if blogs just 'gave us the facts' without any interpretation. So what is the code of conduct for the blogalyst, and what are the lessons for organisations likely to be blogged?
I think that if we wish to be blogalysts we do have a responsibility to check facts where necessary, avoid over-interpretation, explain our thinking - and I plan to do better in future. We should alert those we mention to our posts.
At the same time, organisations will need to recognise that there is a new media out there which is as much about conversations as reports, press releases and so on. They may wish to join the conversations themselves, with their own blogs able to provide updates and interpetation.
If a blogalyst alerts them to a post, and leaves comments open, there is an opportunity for instant correction or reinterpretation.
The difficulty for the organisation, I guess, is that means some staff member has to take responsibility for speaking publicly, and this may or may not be easy in a large organisation. Nonprofits can be pretty cautious, and understandable competitive and secretive where funding bids are concerned.
Anyway, this small experience leaves me with the feeling that blogalysts may have a role in dropping little pebbles in the pond that produce a few ripples and rock a few boats. That's the provocative-catalyst bit. The challenge is how then to move to collaborative-catalyst mode... something conventional journalism finds hard to do, and one of the reasons I left to become a sort of facilitator, process consultant, mentor. Could never get a name for it. Thanks, Ross, for blogalyst, I'm not sure it has quite the right ring, but it should start a few more open conversations. Which is what this is all about, isn't it?