For the record, I don't buy into all the talk of a pitched debate between "MSM" and the "citizen journalists", between old-school and new-school media, or especially between "bloggers" and "journalists." It's a canard, or at the very least a false dichotomy: if you do journalism, you're a journalist. Whether you do it with a video camera, a tape recorder, a text editor hooked up to a newspaper or a wire service, a radio microphone, with WordPress, by wetly mimeographed paper, whatever -- you're a journalist. (Which gives rise to the oft-asked question: Can you be both a journalist and a blogger? Of course you can, and to try to define that truth out of existence means you're putting an inappropriately narrow spin on what both "journalist" and "blogger" mean.)
Why does this have my spleen up? Well, I have another blog that focuses on cocktails, and so I try to keep up with what's going on in the (ahem) spirits world. After some Twitter contacts had pointed me there, I ran across a post on Lush Life saying that LeNell's, the best liquor store in New York, had closed and that LeNell herself was moving to London.
This was a shock; I knew that LeNell Smothers, the store's proprietor (and a Southern gal with a salty mien and encyclopedic knowledge of booze, so of course she's dear to my heart) had been having real-estate issues, but I'd heard nothing about the store closing. But there it was in Lush Life: "LeNell's is officially closed."
Sounds pretty definitive, no? The author of that post didn't provide any corroborating links, except to the LeNell's site, which was -- and is -- still up, with no sign that anything had changed. So I called the store's phone number, and got a voice mail saying that things were up in the air a bit, and that the store would have irregular hours for the next few days. This didn't sound like "officially closed" to me.
What gave? I dropped LeNell a line -- she's not hard to track down -- and she basically told me that the store hasn't closed, and that she's not moving to London. She amplified this the next day in a comment on Eater:
I ain't closed just yet. Amazing how things get reported without real accuracy.
I was hoping to make a public announcement later this week, but this kind of nonsense has forced me to come out and talk.
Then, I noticed that Lush Life responded after a fashion, backpedaling from its formerly definitive statement and quoting LeNell's comment on Eater. No apology, no correction, not even an acknowledgement that they were wrong. Apparently "officially" -- as in "LeNell's is officially closed" -- doesn't mean the same thing over there.
See, this is the kind of thing that gives bloggers a bad name, and further enables the supercilious sneers of media traditionalists. If your only source was "the grapevine" and "rumor has it" and "we overheard," why not, y'know, CONTACT the subject of your story? Is it too fuddy-duddy, too old-school stick-in-the-mud to make sure that what you're publishing (and not incidentally, throwing your credibility behind) has a passing acquaintance with actual events? Kinda makes the whole concept of breaking news a bit hollow, doesn't it, when you don't bother to do any checking? That's not journalism -- it's stenography.
And then, when you're shown up by the subject of your big story, it seems strange to say that you "might have let the cat out of the bag." Looks more like the cat was never in the bag. And there wasn't even a cat in the first place. And quite possibly no bag.