Thursday, October 4, 2007

Whose Kos? Moulitsas's Kos!

Reporters ought to be more thourough when sourcing information to Web Sites was the introduction into the article “Who speaks for a website?” published by the Online Journalism Review. Markos Moulitsas, from the DailyKos, raised an important issue to which all journalist who cover the Web ought to show greater sensitivity to. Moulitsas complained about the Wall Street Journal article which claimed that Moulitsas’ Web site held a position on campaign finance reform that is actually the opposite of Moulitsas’ position.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time it has happened. This summer, Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly attacked DailyKos over selected comments and diaries that appeared on the site, claiming that the site supported those views. While neglecting to note that those posts were from readers who have no financial or editorial relationship with the site.

With thousands of readers posting diaries on the DailyKos each week it is possible to attribute just about any political position to someone on the website. But that’s the key: the attribution ought to be given to the person on the Web site, and not the Web site itself.

It is because of this issue that the old newspaper/TV model doesn’t apply to Web communities. If a reporter appears in the news pages of the Wall Street Journal, reporter at other papers can attribute that report to “The Wall Street Journal” without providing the byline of the actual reporter who wrote the piece. This is because that reporter was assigned that piece by the paper which pays them and edits them.

This is not the case with copy being published on DailyKos and the thousand of other Web communities. Reader sign up for an account and after a one week wait can start posting diaries to the website. While a site’s editors might read it in consideration for linking to it from the site’s heavily-read front page, there is no other staff editorial review of the diary. The topics aren’t assigned by DailyKos and, aside from a handful, aren’t paid for either. Unless a diary contains copyrighted material or violates the site’s rules for posting, it will remain on the site, even if it conflicts with the owner’s political beliefs.

Attributions of reporters that appear on sites like DailyKos to the site itself is like attributing a CNN report as cable television’s views. To be fully accurate news reports should cite the individual author of information found on the site, rather than just the site itself.

Due to this issue Moulitsas has declared “No one speaks for Daily Kos other than me. Period."

Journalist ought to respect this and sharpen their procedures for attributing information from online communities that allow publication from readers, as well as paid staff. Readers have a right to know the source of the information in your stories, which demands that you not overlook, or withhold, relevant context about the identity of a source.

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