Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Can We Have a Do-Over?

In the wake of one of the biggest "oops" in RPG blog history (the mistaken reporting of D&D co-founder Dave Arneson's passing earlier today), there has been a generally red faced, embarrassed, "what on earth happened?" response among the blogger community. Not one of it's best days, and it could have been easily avoided. The problems range from using Wikipedia as a source (it had the false news up pretty quickly) to not checking sources (basic operating procedure for any serious member of the media) to joining the ill-informed, rush-to-post gang of would be Woodward and Bernsteins for no reason than to be the "first one" to inform the world at large of a "death in the family" (actually kind of a morbid response, if you ask me, to try and get the news up before anyone else scoops you?).

One of the reasons so-called "hard news" (newspapers and television) is failing miserably lately (a record number of print publications are going under this year) is because of the immediacy offered in internet news and reporting. Bloggers exemplify this immediacy and their importance is seen daily by the amount of people that now rely on them for their news fix everyday in lieu of "traditional" news sources. Unfortunately, a total cock-up like this is what leads to lots of greybearded types knowingly nodding and saying things like "THATS why you can't trust blogs".

For quite a while the entire lure of blogging was "Anyone can blog" (which often leads to the thought, if you read enough of these, "No, NOT anyone can blog") and traditional media outlets contributed to their own downslide with stuff like the almost constant ridiculous scandals at the New York Times (where they make up more news than they report real news). However, the sort of outpouring of grief and sentiment today for only be forcefully stopped as dozens of bloggers backtracked all over the the kind of silly tent-show that makes one wonder how this blogging thing expects to ever be taken seriously.

Wacky opinions about Non Weapon Proficiencies, OD&D vs 1E vs 2E, how 3E became the end of D&D as we know it, and whether Monte Cook is a sell-out or not doesn't mean our types don't do serious commentary on serious subjects...I read insightful comments everyday and respect the hell out of many of the bloggers I read (and recommend anyone I have listed on "My Blog List" in that respect). However, these types of fiascos, while understandable, do nothing but undermine any sort of basic tenets we operate under and cheapen anything serious we have to say. Radio, TV and News 101 in high school teaches the first thing you do before running with a story is to get at least THREE confirmations of your story; Now, I took that class almost 30 years ago so I don't know what the procedure is now (one source that's not drunk, in politics, or named "Wikipedia?). But I'm talking about a solid line of bloggers restating something they read on Wikipedia (the most laughable source of information in the history of the internet) or on someone else's blog with ZERO confirmation...please.

Unfortunately the lure of being the "first" causes a lot of us (and a lot of professionals, mind you: Dewey beats Truman, anyone?) to run with a story before going through the proper channels. And despite what this looks like I'm not hammering the one or ones who originally ran the Arneson story (I'm honestly not 100% sure who it was, anyway); I'm actually a bit more annoyed at the legions of others who ran with the story based on this information or something flimsier. Next time someone in our family dies, or doesn't die, can we please make damn sure we know what we are talking about before running with it?


  1. This is exactly why I never post anything about people dying in my blog or on forums.

  2. With all due respect, anybody who looks to the blogosphere as a source for "hard news" is barking up the wrong tree - and should be ashamed of it. With a few exceptions, bloggers aren't journalists, have not had journalism education or experience, and their output should not be treated as journalism. The blogosphere is people talking and sharing ideas and information informally, just as they would over a cup of coffee in the break room. I don't know about you, but I don't expect that my co-workers have run down the source of their info and two or three backup sources; I just take it all with a grain of salt, and sometimes it's wrong. Since anyone can start a blog and post to it, the same should be expected of the blogosphere.

    Therefore, the shame - if any - in this sort of snafu shouldn't, IMO, lay with the bloggers, but with anybody who thinks they should be held accountable under the name of journalistic integrity.

    Also, as a side note, as far as I have read, this story originated from a "reliable" source, and was validated by at least two other news sources. The problem here appears to have been that a person or persons close to the family had false information and disseminated it. And unless a poster had "a man on the inside" there was no way to verify this beyond the initial due diligence that was done. I'd say that the fact that it was even checked out this far was more than you'd normally see from an everyday blogger.


  3. I don't think anyone holds blogging to as high or higher standard than "regular" news (if they do, like you say, they are deluding themselves). However, I find that blogging hurts itself the most when it does tend to venture into what we would call "hard" or "real" news and then drops the ball. I understand the purpose of blogs, but like anything else, reliability should be a high priority. If I wrote a entry about the 1E PHB written by Monte Cook, you would rightfully probably dismiss anything I had to say afterwards as drivel. All I'm saying is that when reporting on a hard news item like a death in the family, we should at least hold ourselves to the standards of a local high school newspaper. The wide-spread backtracking on this in the blogsphere was embarrasing, IMO.

    And this isn't a total rip against James of Grognardia (which I think was the initial blog that announced the news). I do think he got pretty much shafted on this and has apologized. However, it worries me that he and the legion of bloggers after him that just had to post something along the lines of "Hey, Dave Arneson just passed away, may flights of angels carry him, etc etc" are falling prey to the disease of "Let's be the first, Damn the Torpedoes". Does it really matter if you report on a person's death while the body is till warm, or you wait a few hours to collect your thoughts? Is someone beating you to the punch really that important? This is one of the reasons I delayed comments on the WOTC/PDF fiasco until I could see what else was coming down the pipe. What if, a few hours after everyone on their Aunt May spewed comments about how WOTC should burn at the stake, etc, WOTC had announced "Hey, we have a new website, all 1E/2E PDFs are able to be downloaded for FREE there!". Another massive backtracking boo-boo (ok, it would never happen, but still go with me...) with plenty of egg on faces. All because someone had to be the "first" one to kick the carcass of WOTC.

    No matter the reasons, and no matter how much respect I have for the bloggers in "My Blog List", we (as a community) screwed this one up. Let's move on and get it right next time.

  4. @Badmike (this is a copy of the comment I left for you at Chris B's site) - I still feel as low today as I did yesterday, but let me set one thing straight - I wasn't trying to be "first" as much as I was reacting to what I thought was credible information coming from two reliable sources. Reliable as in 99% of the time. It's unfortunate that this time was a mistake. None can feel worse than those of us who thought the worst and found out we'd made a mistake. There wasn't a scoop going on, we were mourning what we thought was the passing of someone really wonderful.

    The f***ed up part is that a hospice stay is usually a very bad sign. In the pit of my stomach is the realization that we may have to face the same story again.

    All I can is that I'm really sorry.

  5. First Posted by myself to Christopher's excellent blog in the comments section: I've been intimately involved in newsworthy events during the years...only to see the reporting completely bolloxed up when finally reported on by the mainstream media (to the point where there were bald faced lies involved by the reporters). Being as intimately involved in the profession as you are, Christopher, I bet you've seen the same from your side (I firmly believe the local media simply makes up details in about 50% of the stories they report on, it's so bad here in DFW). So I'm probably more sensitive than I need to be when it comes to "Just blogging", since I think for the most part we are in this for the "love of the game" and not any sensationalistic concerns. It's not like there was any malicious intent....we'll just do better next time.

  6. "...we'll just do better next time."

    I agree - and I think this is the big take-away here. Lesson (presumably) learned, let's move along to bigger and better things. :)