Something extremely important is happening at this very moment and it is worth taking a look.
Despite all the past debate about the blogosphere — sometimes heated — among conventional journalists, bloggers, and plain old twitterers , the New York Times is putting together some extraordinary breaking coverage of the events in Iran using just these types of “questionable” sources.
These include Flickr, Twitter, social networks, instant messaging, You Tube, and numerous blogs. The Times coverage appears in the Lede blog on the home page of the Internet edition.
I have always listened when Bill Keller, Times Managing Editor, and other journalists have offered their sometimes biting critique of the blogosphere: Who are these bloggers? What are their sources? How can they be trusted? These are fair questions.
But forget those arguments for a second and look at the Times itself. The fact is that, when events like those in Iran occurred, experienced journalists immediately looked to all these fragmented sources and knew just what to do with them. They collated them, questioned them, linked to them, accepted some, rejected others, and tried to fit them into a larger puzzle. It worked.
One big kvetch of conventional journalists has been that the blogosphere has no fact-checkers and editors. But the complaint has essentially fizzled. The Times proved a basic point:
They are still the editors!
No one forced them to quote from the blogs and the tweets of students caught in the midst of demonstrations. They did it carefully, and with the clear belief that “the amateurs” helped fill-in the details of the complex story they were covering.
And what do you know? The amateurs didn’t overrun quality journalism. They didn’t replace it. They became an indispensable part of the mix.
In the end, all these new-fangled news sources from the street turned out to be not all that different from the old stodgy, official sources: You look at them, judge their validity, decide when they can be embedded in a larger story, and either use them or not use them. Of course, you have to be cautious, very cautious, but — in the end — you are still the editor.