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Hypergene MediaBlog » Grass-roots reporting breaks MS ad fraud

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Tuesday, 15 Oct 2002

Grass-roots reporting breaks MS ad fraud

The Microsoft Switch ad fraud story that came out on Monday is another example to substantiate John Hiler’s Emerging Media Ecosystem, where bloggers and journalists have a symbiotic relationship, working together to “report, filter and break news.”

In our opinion, the BBC did an excellent job sourcing Slashdot and the AP writer, as two-pronged heads of truth-seeking on this story. But the BBC gives ultimate credit to Slashdotters in the headline, noting “Web users turn tables on Microsoft”.

The AP writer, Ted Bridis, deserves props for sourcing the community at Slashdot.org in his article. Unfortunate that he calls them “amateur sleuths,” which comes off condescending (Wired’s version of the AP story also uses this language). His article also adds that “other Internet users picked out what few personal details they could find hinting at the woman’s identity.” Bloggers perhaps or other Slashdot users? We’re not sure, because that’s not sourced in the story. At least this is an attempt by the mainstream media to source online communities for grass-roots reporting.

The same cannot be said for CNet, whose article makes no mention of the leg work done by the members of Slashdot. The article says, “The ad was pulled down from Microsoft’s Web site Monday, following an inquiry from CNET News.com.” Which may be true, but this makes it sound like they broke the story - no mention of AP or Slashdot.

It’s fascinating to the read the original Slashdot post and the follow, as the community disects and investigates red flags in the ad. Later that day, a Slashdotter bemoans the idea of their leg work falling on deaf ears, “All this info found will be of no use unless it can surface to mainstream media,” wrote 403Forbidden. Of course, it did get picked up.

In this comment and what threaded after, were examples of the Slashdot community occassionally getting credit from mainstream press (CNN quoting and attributing Slashdot on a story). But mostly, Slashdotters said, that their articles/posts are picked up days or months later in the mainstream a month after it was on Slashdot, as well as allegations that comments are lifted, without attribution.

Our advice: Editors at mainstream news media organizations need to establish policies for attribution when sourcing blogs, and collaborative publishing communities such as Slashdot. As well, they should consider the future potential of byline sharing with online reporters (amateur or professional) who have done the heavy lifting. If anyone knows of such policies, we’d love it if you could post them or email us. How long will it be before we see journalist and bloggers sharing bylines on stories?

Update (10.17.02): Journalist Dan Gillmor makes a similar point: “This is tomorrow’s journalism, a partnership of sorts between professionals and the legions of gifted amateurs out there who can help us—all of us—figure things out. It’s a positive development, and we’re still figuring out how it works.”

Posted on Oct 15, 2002 | 4:20 pm EST
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