Damian Tambini’s internet bigotry

By Felix Salmon
September 4, 2009
Jeff Jarvis is kvetching, reasonably enough, about "internet bigotry" -- the idea that everything bad which happens in the media must somehow be the fault of the internet, and bloggers, and other such new-media developments. It's a theme running through Damian Tambini's very long and boring essay on ethics in financial journalism, which has just been published by the LSE and Polis. For instance:

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Jeff Jarvis is kvetching, reasonably enough, about “internet bigotry” — the idea that everything bad which happens in the media must somehow be the fault of the internet, and bloggers, and other such new-media developments. It’s a theme running through Damian Tambini’s very long and boring essay on ethics in financial journalism, which has just been published by the LSE and Polis. For instance:

The views of the journalists interviewed for this paper revealed considerable diversity of views on their basic responsibilities: views ranged from those who saw their responsibility in terms of selling newspapers (and thus focused on the shareholders of the companies employing them) – to those with a very developed idea of the social function of financial journalism and associated ethical responsibilities. Others identify with the values of the profession as a whole. And an interesting new challenge is that many of those providing services akin to financial journalism in the new media reject the label of journalist altogether, preferring to opt out of any ethical framework associated with it

Clearly in the days of blogs, messaging and email newsletters it is important that professional financial journalists put clear boundaries between themselves and the rumour mongers.

(My emphasis.)

Tambini’s paper is not only larded with 17 footnotes and a two-page bibliography; it is also highly concerned with things like “standards of verification and sourcing”. Yet a comment like this — essentially saying with no basis whatsoever that lots of finance bloggers actively choose to “opt out of any ethical framework” — can easily and casually be thrown into the paper. He doesn’t even stop to wonder whether conflating blogs with “rumour mongers” might not be entirely fair.

As Jarvis points out, in many cases (such as Chelsea Clinton not getting married) it’s the professional journalists, not the blogs, which are the worst offenders. And in the world of finance, the most virulent rumors are those spread by the likes of CNBC, while blogs are if anything better at debunking rumors than they are at spreading them. (Alphaville, in particular, is very good at this.)

The problem is that Tambini talked overwhelmingly to old-media types: he doesn’t seem to have had any interest in even trying to approach bloggers or other new-media denizens to get their take on the ethics of financial journalism. Maybe he thought that he might catch something nasty if he got too close.

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