Having previously written a rather long piece about netiquette and flame wars, I want to start by saying that this is not a flame. Actually it is a story about a web site that is doing something right, it appears to me. Very early in my blogging career I wrote Free People Read Freely in observation of the American Library Association's annual Banned Books Week campaign. I shared with my readers some of my favorite books that have been banned. I presented ten books and wrote a fairly well researched paragraph about how, when, where and why each had been banned. I ended the piece by asking my readers to comment about their favorite banned books. It was a great post, and the next day I took ten of my reader's suggestions and wrote Banned Books Chosen By Readers Of This Blog. Two posts, twenty great books and my little site was receiving more visitors than I ever had before. Man, I was on a roll. So third day I decided I would continue the Banned Books theme and do a post about Why books are banned. I assumed I knew the answer to that. And I had a plan. I would post a thread on a popular message board that I frequent asking people to comment on why books get banned. I'd pick up a few quotes, knock out the piece in an hour or so and get on with my day.
Boy, was I wrong.
Rather than readily and quickly agreeing with what I had believed (that books were being banned more and more because the right wing did a political takeover of many school boards a few years back). the members of the forum postulated three other completely credible theories. And every one of them was expressed every bit as eloquently as I am able to write. It was, as they say, a learning experience. In the end, I wrote A Post That Would Not Be Written about my experiences that day-- reading a discussion board and learning how complex the issue of banning books actually is, rather than what I had believed (in what in retrospect I see was a very knee-jerk, reactionary manner) to be simply one more example of right wing over-reach. And the three correspondents who contribiuted so much to my education? Every one of them subscribed to a belief system that I do not share. One lessoned I learned that day is that people who profoundly disagree with us can teach us a great deal about ourselves. It was definitely a highlight of my almost two decades now of participating in online communities.
Everybody makes mistakes. Successful people try to learn from them every single time. And it appears to me that the folks who bring us Broowaha want those of us who write here to learn and grow. I screwed up last week. I jumped on a bandwagon and wrote a story about the "new $300 Philadelphia blog tax". Three of the five words in that headline turned out to be factually inaccurate. Naturally, I was horrified. I reporterd factually inaccurate information. That is definitely a big NO for any writer or website that ever seeks to call themself a journalist with a straight face. So I did what any reporter should. I researched the issue very thoroughly. I sought out an interview with a credible source. And I verified that every fact had been reported in coherence by three indepent sources. (You did know those are rules for factual reporting, didn't you?) Then I published the much better researched article and put a link to it in a reply to a comment on the inaccurate article.
The fact is, that if I had in my embarassment simply let my story drop to the bottom of the Broo and not issued a correction, I would have harmed the credibility of every person who writes here. That Broowaha without comment allowed me to go ahead and correct my error gives me great hope that every one of us here can come to hold ourselves to all of the ethical standards of the profession. And if that doesn't make us "real journalists", nothing will.