Someone called me out in a news item on CoasterBuzz about what my responsibility was regarding my position as the guy who runs CoasterBuzz. I'm pretty comfortable about what that position is (and I spelled it out there, in case there was any question), and I've mostly stayed true to it.
The last year or two has really elevated the concept of "citizen journalism," and there are new players we couldn't have imagined pre-Web. Granted, the part no one talks about is that the citizens morph into companies in the long run (wow, that's an interesting topic to explore), but the point is that the rules are different.
A lot of people, including myself, give Fox News a lot of crap, because they're hardly unbiased in reporting "news" (hint: the literal on-screen flag waving). Not everyone will look around for better sources, let alone try something offering a totally different perspective like al-Jazeera. I'm not naive enough to believe there is totally bias-free reporting, but at least I look for some balance.
With blogs, RSS and all of the socially-powered stuff on the Web today, you almost get a game of telephone where the message can change over time. It's better than that game at least, because there are always links and searches that can get you closer to the real thing. Still, this leaves the question: What is the responsibility of journalists today, and what place does personality have in it?
I took a journalism class in college that covered non-fiction narrative, that brand of writing that covers some subject, but fully involves the author as a part of the story. Look no further than virtually anything Hunter S. Thompson ever wrote for examples. Often called "gonzo journalism," he'd frequently edit the facts but loosely convey the same meaning to tell the story. A lot of that class I took revolved around the moral and ethical implications of this practice.
The immediacy of the Internet is the new variable in this equation of personality and journalism. Engadget caused Apple stock to tank temporarily on a rumor. Howard Dean got excited and kicked in the nuts for it in the 2004 presidential election due in part to video around the Internet. Taste makers can kill a product before it's even released. These are all acts that result in some part due to some editorial decision on the part of individuals.
Is that OK? Most of the time, I'd say yes. It depends largely on how you set expectations though. Publishers of all forms of media, large and small, suck at this. Worse yet, the consuming public sucks at figuring it out.
What all of this rambling means is that when it comes to journalism and the reporting of news, half of the responsibility lies with the consumer of that media. Blaming the nebulous "media" for things is stupid and lazy. You have to do your part to discern the bullshit from the steak. If more people did that, it would force the integrity and hand of news organizations to do a better job. If you're willing to be spoon-fed the bullshit, well, hold your nose and swallow, and be sure to brush your teeth afterward.