Felix Salmon

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:

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.

6 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Felix, let’s be honest, Jarvis has no idea what he’s talking about. The way that bloggers shift and define stories is not all sunshine and kittens. Bloggers tend to polarize stories, and fit them into simple categories like outrage or controversy. This is the nature of having to quickly respond to news as it comes across their desk in a limited amount of words. It is also why they are more susceptible to rumors than mainstream reporters.

Jarvis is the same way, he’d rather characterize everything as New Media Good or Old Media Bad rather than admit that, hey maybe it’s time we have a serious discussion about ethics and quality in online journalism.

Blogs have won. They are here to stay. It’s alright to criticize them for what they do poorly.


Holiday, did you read my post? I didn’t say a thing about defending blogs. I quoted the New York Times reporter attacking internet media culture and then having not one, not one iota of evidence backing up his point. Just like you.


While I agree with Ryan’s comment, I think that more can be said. I think that blogs are essentially commentaries and editorials for the most part and usually have no initial background work (no, linking to another article is not research, just like reading Oliver Twist isn’t research on the condition of orphans.) I think a blogger’s main goal is to be reactive, whereas a journalists main goal (used to be) being proactive in digging up dirt and truth.

That being said, I feel there is some crossover in the two areas these days due to commercialization of the news industry: some bloggers can really dig; some journalists are sensationalist shills. And this is why there does need to be an INDUSTRY WIDE re-evalution of what it means to be a journalist/blogger (if they are to be treated equally) – are you all content to be seen as just editorial or as serving corporate/government agendas unwaveringly? Integrity comes with a price, and it’s usually deducted from a paycheque directly…

Posted by the Shah | Report as abusive

Jeff, of course. But Tambini isn’t being a bigot, he’s partially correct. I didn’t say you were criticizing blogs – the problem is you wring the nuance out of these discussions by making them so contentious.

We could use more people – especially skilled journalists – pointing out the problems with blogs and certain websites. How are they supposed to improve?


ryan, could you please explain to us what evidence you see that old media journalists behave within an \”ethical framework?\”

i see old media journalists behave within established norms in their field, which is not close to the same. the established norms, for example, allow people to get away with \”opinions on shape of earth differ.\” what is the \”ethical framework\” that encompasses turning empirical information into he said/she said phony sourcing?

the broader point here is the one that our host gets at: there are a lot of old media types who find it easy to blame blogging for the structural decline of their industry and who feel perfectly free to bitch and moan without really knowing what they are talking about.

i could, with no difficulty, name 20 finance and economics blogs whose standards exceed what i read daily in the wall street journal and nytimes.

Posted by howard | Report as abusive

“While I agree with Ryan’s comment, I think that more can be said. I think that blogs are essentially commentaries and editorials for the most part and usually have no initial background work (no, linking to another article is not research, just like reading Oliver Twist isn’t research on the condition of orphans.)”

While this is often true, what’s interesting to me is that it decidedly wasn’t the case in the financial crisis. The best reporting bar none on the subprime disaster was done by Calculated Risk’s Tanta, based on her own experience in the industry and detailed understanding and explanation of the mechanics of loan underwriting, securitisation and modification. In fact, the analysis of what went wrong with securitisation was better on (some, widely read) blogs was better than anything in the non-specialist press, and better than quite a lot of the specialist press. There’s an awful lot of terrible reporting/analysis/commentary on the less informed blogs as well, but arguably nothing worse than some things I’ve seen in newspapers with circulations in the hundreds of thousands.

And I say all this as a print journalist myself. There are many things for people like me to fear from the rise of the internet, but this supposed ethics or responsibility gap is not one of them.

Posted by Ginger Yellow | Report as abusive

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