A Web log, also known as a blog, can be written by anyone. You can blog about your feelings, your cat, or whether you think itâ€™s fair to suspect Raul Ibanez of using steroids, which is what JRod famously did last week.
Blogs have taken off, and now weâ€™ve got a problem. The lines have blurred.
What happens when bloggers get together and create a site like Midwest Sports Fans, updating it with news, and making it look and feel like a news site? Are they now journalists with the same standards?
With mainstream media being consumed on the web more and more each day, itâ€™s tougher to discern whatâ€™s journalism and whatâ€™s â€œjust some guy writing.â€
If you go on a newspapersâ€™ website to get the news, it looks like a website, has a banner on top, and some columns and news items. If you go to a blog site, like Midwest Sports Fans, it may look pretty darn similar, with the basic web design, sponsor links, and columns. The difference is that the columns on this site donâ€™t have the same journalistic standards.
This has become a pretty slippery slope.
As sites like Midwest Sports Fans explode in popularity, they become more legitimate-looking. Therefore, such sites’ readers treat then more as â€œnewsâ€ as opposed to â€œwanderings of the mind.â€ Does this mean higher ethics and journalistic standards need to be exercised?
In the case of Raul Ibanez I think it does.
When you have Raul Ibanez reacting to it, and Jerod Morris (JRod) appearing on ESPN, you know your site has arrived. There is a responsibility to balance your right to blog with journalistic principles of fairness.
Hereâ€™s an analogy: If you tell a group of four friends that you suspect Mr. Smith is gay (and why), youâ€™d feel okay, because youâ€™re just telling a few people. But would you stand in a crowded opera house of 1,000 people and announce that with a megaphone? Probably not. Youâ€™d have to feel a little funny about that.
Thatâ€™s the difference between writing something in a chat room or e-mail, versus placing it on a huge blog site like MWSF.
When talking about journalistic standards, the lines are blurry of course. Newspaper writers who blog for their own papersâ€™ websites have let their standards slip. A decade ago, you would never print rumors or hunches unless you could confirm them. Nowadays, for some reason, the same legitimate journalists will post just about everything, thinking its okay because itâ€™s â€œjust on their blog.â€
They put something on the web and then sayâ€¦â€œbut I havenâ€™t been able to confirm it.â€ Then can you really say it at all?
However, I still know they would not go as far as to drag a stand-up guy like Ibanez into the steroid discussion, out of the blue. Iâ€™m a journalist, and I wouldnâ€™t have. Mainstream media members have their reputations and relationships to maintain.
The subject of who has to stick to journalistic ethics and standards boils down to how you present yourself. If Jerod wondered about Ibanezâ€™s possible steroid use in a chat room, it wouldnâ€™t matter. But since MWSF has a huge following, Jerod (JRod) has turned himself into a quasi-journalist and needs to be careful. He told me on Friday that he doesnâ€™t regret writing about his Ibanez-steroid theory (and naming him), he only regrets he wasnâ€™t more careful with the tone and the title of the story. In other words, bloggers should have the right to say whatâ€™s on their mind, but he does sense that there is a level of responsibility that comes with it.
Remember bloggers, youâ€™re not just talking to your friends anymore. Youâ€™re sharing this stuff with 50,000 people or more, larger than some newspapersâ€™ entire circulation.
Jerod wrote a piece, basically saying itâ€™s sad that in this day and age we have to suspect aging sluggers of steroid use. He speculated that Ibanez could very well be using.
If a member of the mainstream media wrote that piece, the author would not be ethically able to name Ibanez as an example, unless he was getting Ibanezâ€™s reaction on the topic of â€œthe blanket of suspicion.â€ There was an SI article on the same topic, using Albert Pujols as the focus. The reason that article was okay was that Pujols was discussing how sad it is that there are doubts. Plus the article wasnâ€™t done in a way to ignite speculation.
JRod said he would have asked Ibanez about the topic, but bloggers donâ€™t have the same access to the players as regular media. I believe that makes it not okay to name names.
When JRod was on Outside the Lines (picture courtesy of Awful Announcing), Ken Rosenthal blasted him for not showing any decency and writing whatever he wanted. John Gonzalez of the Philly Inquirer took more of a middle ground, saying bloggers are the â€œwild west of journalism,â€ and they have to be careful. I agree with John to a point. People can blog about whatever, but when blog sites start to look like news organizations, there have to be some standards.
JRod did not come out and say Ibanez is usingâ€¦he just said there is reason to doubt him in this day and age. That doesnâ€™t sound terrible, but because JRodâ€™s following is so huge, it certainly created a huge backlash, including from Ibanez himself.
MWSF has the burden of popularity. It has become legitimate. It has become a place people come to for insight and information. It is very easy for someone who is reading online material to forget they are on a blog site as opposed to mainstream media website.
At the end of the day, itâ€™s up to each blogger to realize they have a level of responsibility to fact-check and not spread rumor. JRod found out the hard way that your tone and the way you present facts can do a lot of damage. While he says he doesnâ€™t regret naming Ibanez, he says it has made him think about being careful. I also credit Jrod for reaching out to Ibanez after the story broke in Philadelphia and trying to explain himself.
Thatâ€™s the type of responsibility, accountability, and decency that needs to be on everyoneâ€™s mind next time they blog.
Scott Reister is a featured contributor to Midwest Sports Fans, as well as Dallas Sports Fans.
He is a Sports Anchor for the NBC affiliate in the Tri-Cities and Spokane, WA. To learn more about Scott, visit the Scott Reister bio page on Midwest Sports Fans or check out the Local Sports page on KNDU.com.
To contact Scott: email@example.com