Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Blog Invasion - A Drop In Journalism Quality At CNET News

It's a little silly that I'm going point this out in a blog post. I'm feeling increasingly sick of the unusually large number of blog posts coming up on some of my (till recently) favorite and most-read news websites - such as CNET News.

There was time some years back when I would daily go to CNET News (it was located at back then) and would find a dozen or more fresh and well written news stories, free from immature and misinformed personal opinions and also both enjoyable and insightful. The advent of blogs on the Web, initially by independent individuals on third-party services such as Blogger, and later on News Websites started the trend of what CNET now calls a News Blog. Initially, these News Blogs took up only a small proportion of the total number of stories published by CNET News. Slowly and slowly, however, the proportion of these blogs grew, till a day came when News Blogs finally outnumbered News Stories on the homepage of CNET News. And this, in my opinion, was an unfortunate event, not just for CNET News (and its discerning readers), but for Web-based journalism as a whole (I see similar trend on some other websites such as Wired).

The final blow came when CNET stopped marking these News Blogs with a large and clearly-visible News.Blog banner, and gave all types of stories a unified domain (previously all these News.Blog posts had a separate Internet sub-domain). Together, these 2 changes ensure that not only does one not know before clicking on a link pointing to CNET News (Say, from Google News) that it points to a News Blog and not a news story, but worse, one can't always be sure that one is reading a blog post even after having landed on the page. Additionally, news aggregators such as Google News are mistakenly including these News Blogs in the news stories they include, when the correct place for such posts is the newly revamped Google Blog Search (now in Google News format). One of Google's goals is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful, and an important step in this direction will be to separate indisputable and reliable facts from disputable and unreliable personal opinions. My reasoning for this is that there is a clear line of distinction between News Stories and Blog Posts, as outlined below:-
  1. A News Story: Should present pure and unbiased facts (as they happened), and only pure and unbiased facts
  2. A Blog Post: Should present pure and unbiased facts (if it presents them at all, something not required of a blog post), but can additionally add personal opinions (which sure can be biased, provided reasonable and sufficient attempt is made to ensure that the reader is made aware that he is reading a blog post and not a news story, as well as implications of the same)
The issue I have with CNET News is that it labels and markets itself as a News Website, whereas with News Blogs generally outnumbering News Stories on its homepage, it should ideally be branded as CNET News Blogs, thus reflecting the disproportionate share of blog posts. Readers at large should not be tricked into believing that they're visiting a News Website when in reality they are being given a heavy dose of personal opinions, instead of facts and logical analysis.

Which brings me to the pathetic, and often hilarious News Blogs that many (most?) journalists write. With apparently no real understanding of the underlying business models or technologies, many journalists are dishing out "analysis", "opinions" and hilariously, even "forecasts" and "predictions" about brands, products and segments in the technology sector. Just look at this story and I bet you'll either laugh holding your tummy or get to the verge of crying. The hopelessly pathetic nature of this unusually immature post can be effortlessly judged from the expectedly large number of reader comments it has accrued (which, by the way, are way more correct and enjoyable to read than the story itself - maybe it's Computerworld's secret futuristic 2025 AD strategy of making readers themselves create great content for Computerworld for free, by Computerworld putting up a post full of the material ejected from south end of a cow, thus triggering a surge of corrections and fresh inputs from infuriated readers).

Not only is the correctness of journalism questionable at these so-called News Blogs (I can't digest this term- How can something be both News and Blog?), the professionalism of language used is questionable as well. Look at this story on CNET News. Comparing it to the flavor I get on The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal (notice that WSJ has a separate sub-domain for blogs at to clearly separate authentic news stories from blog posts), I realize why NYT and WSJ are NYT and WSJ, and why CNET is CNET and perhaps will remain CNET.

It infuriates me how right now CNET News homepage is highlighting 15 stories in large font size, and out of those at least 8 are blog posts (most blog posts on CNET News look so identical to news stories that it's hard to decide what is what). Unless a clearly-visible banner is added to each blog post which indicates that this is a blog post and not a news story (along with cautionary implications of the same), such masquerading of blogs as news stories by CNET is tantamount to misinformation.

My 2 cents on the degrading quality of journalism in the age of the World Wide Web.

Update (18-12-08): A recent story on The Wall Street Journal claims that Google's recent actions are an indicator of a reversal of its previous stance on Net Neutrality. Once again, it's a confused, ignorant and misinformed journalist - making premature conclusions and judgments - to blame. With apparently no fundamental knowledge or understanding of computer science, computer networks, cache, content delivery network, and edge computing, the WSJ journalist is making hyperbolic claims which indicate his state of confusion, ignorance and misinformation. I completely agree with Google's visibly enraged response blasting this story on The Journal.

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