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Reader Walter wrote:

Thanks Gayle, I’ve enjoyed your work. It makes MY head spin.. I see the term “spokesperson” used often. I’ve seen it more frequently in use by government agencies and utilities. The Pentagon or the White House are just a few examples of those who use spokesmen (or women). It’s pretty obvious that they often spin the story either by omission or parsing words. (They do you and your profession a disservice.) The door then revolves and these spokes people then turn out to be journalists in the main stream media (MSM). I suppose that this is one factor in the increasing popularity of the blogosphere, portals to “alternate sources of information.” I’d welcome your thoughts.

Walter, my response might surprise you a little. I do credit the explosion in so-called citizen journalism to the biases of the mainstream media the public feels has been shoved down its throat for so many years. There are some terrific resources to be found in the blogosphere. But there’s a huge discrepancy in reliability out there and the public doesn’t always know the difference.

It’s a funny thing to me. The public complains about biased reporting … and then seeks out information full of nothing BUT bias on blogs and web sites of unknown origin. The best citizen journalism follows the best practices of good mainstream journalism: It’s sourced, it’s factual, and there’s a byline from a real person. We have to be discerning as information consumers.

It frustrates me when a blogger hiding behind the shield of anonymity repeats outright lies about an organization I work with and people accept it as the truth. There’s virtually no recourse other than to try and disseminate the facts, hoping the site’s readers might do the legwork they once counted on journalists to do for them and check it out for themselves. But they rarely do.

Professional journalists who are trained how to source facts, provide balance and see through smokescreens are feeling the heat as their organizations are losing audiences to alternative sources of ungrounded information that shouldn’t be confused with news. Ironically, they end up being forced to do more with less to keep up: more story production with less resources and less time (with less pay, of course), and the news product suffers for it. Good journalists get fed up and quit. A lot become — surprise! — public relations people.

We’re closing in fast on a day when we have nothing left but opinion passing itself off as news … which is what everyone was upset with in the first place. 

— GAYLE LYNN FALKENTHAL

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