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When Blogging Misleads

Some of you may have read national reports about a gang of epithet spewing African-Americans who marched down a residential Peoria street last Friday. The national reports stemmed from a local blog posting that appears to have been incomplete at best. C. J. Summers, who operates The Peoria Chronicle blog, received an email from a Peoria resident very early Saturday morning advising him of a gang of young black people who had marched down Thrush Street yelling derogatory remarks and suggesting that members of the group were "going to kill all the white people." Thrush Street has both white and black residents. The group of about 50 young people apparently was attending a nearby party before taking to the streets.

The Peoria Chronicle, apparently believing the emailed information to be accurate, posted the information, which was subsequently picked up by The Drudge Report, and the story went national. The traffic on The Peoria Chronicle site was so heavy that the site crashed.

The Peoria Journal Star reports that Summers thought the comments by the resident, Paul Wilkinson, were newsworthy on a local, but not national level. It is not clear what efforts Summers made to verify any of the information, but he posted the information at 3:00 am, little more than an hour after receiving the email from Wilkinson, who is president of a neighborhood association. The Journal Star reported Summers said "It just doesn't seem like a guy like that would be prone to making things up just to get headlines."

Police now report that after interviewing residents of the area, no one, other than Wilkinson, heard any racial slurs or threats. Peoria Police Captain Mike Scally said more was made of the situation than actually occurred. One resident described the event as no big deal. 

So the first question is - - to what degree to we verify the accuracy of information before airing/posting it? It's a question to be discussed within each newsroom and no doubt will vary by incident. But a newsroom, or individual, should have general guidelines by which they/he/she abide.

The second question has been discussed by the INBA membership at various times - - are bloggers to be considered news people? If not, bloggers may not have the same set of ethical standards to follow as compared to television/radio/cable news operations. And if that is the case, how do we educate the viewers/listeners/readers as to the difference between the two?

Food for thought.