Sunday, December 24, 2006

Weblog Accuracy

It's rumored that there is a segment of the MainStream Media (MSM) that doesn't consider weblogging to be in the same league as "real" journalism. I don't presently have any acquaintences who are journalists, so I can't actually speak to this myself. I have, however, encountered a situation where it appears that journalists consider weblogging to subject to less stringent standards than "regular" news. Consider weblog entries posted earlier this week in both the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Seattle Times concerning the Washington Supreme Court's ruling in the case of "1000 Friends of Washington v. McFarland."
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's "Strange Bedfellows" weblog opens with the following:
State Supreme Court: Voters can't repeal land use laws
The state Supreme Court ruled (1000 Friends of Wash. v. McFarland) Thursday that local residents do not have the right to overturn controversial land-use laws by popular vote.
The Seattle Times' "Postman on Politics" weblog uses this opening:
Supreme Court says voters can't repeal critical areas ordinance
The state Supreme Court ruled this morning that King County's controversial critical areas ordinance cannot be repealed by voters. In a 7-2 decision, the court said the ordinance was designed to implement the Growth Management Law, which is mandated by the state, and cannot be subject to a voter referendum.
Here is the crux of the ruling, as noted in a concurring opinion by Justice Charles Johnson: "The majority reaches the correct result which is compelled by our prior case authority. The majority opinion, when stripped of its unnecessary rhetoric and hyperbole, can be summarized simply: where the state law requires local government to perform specific acts, those local actions are not subject to local referendum." Both weblogs quote this passage in their postings. But neither seem to have taken much, if any effort to make the titles and beginnings of the posts reflect this rather simple concept, instead waiting until later to try to clear things up. (I do think, however, that the Postman blog makes something of a nod in that direction.) As the comments on both blogs show, a number of people never seem to have gotten the point.
Maybe I just don't spend enough time reading newspapers, but I would have thought that standard would be higher than this. Why start out with a misleading title, and try to correct the misconceptions that arise later, when you don't have to? The cynic in me thinks that the misleading titles were more likely to get people to read the stories, and so they were allowed to stand as they were. But I really don't know. Perhaps it really is just a matter of journalistic sloppiness that went unnoticed because it was never going to make it into the print edition of the newspapers.
In any event, because of this and some earlier episodes, I don't take the newspaper's commentary on judical rulings at face value anymore - I go to their website, and read the opinions for myself.

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