What’s true and what’s not? Not that easy to ascertain these days (not that it ever was particularly easy) with blogs and all that. This piece from The Business has, as you might have read, been roundly condemned as untrue: Microsoft invents a one-play only DVD to combat Hollywood piracy :
COMPUTER software giant Microsoft has developed a cheap, disposable pre-recorded DVD disc that consumers can play only once. The discs would give Hollywood increased control over the release of new films and allow consumers the chance to watch a film at the fraction of the price of an ordinary pre-recorded DVD. More important, the discs would prevent copying and digital piracy, which is costing the film and music industry billions in lost revenues.
Despite being widely cited, it has been shot down by Scoble and others. Not only has it been called incorrect, but also a “hoax”. Not the kind of thing a publication seeking a reputation would like to hear one of its front page stories called. After all, The Business is owned by the Barclay brothers, “who have other publishing interests in The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, Edinburgh Evening News, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator magazine”, according to the website.
So were the doubters right, or a tad quick with their ack-ack fire? I contacted the author, business editor Tony Glover, who says the online publication “stand[s] by the story 100% and will be running a follow-up on Sunday naming sources”. As it’s only Friday we’ll have to wait, but I’m more interested in the ping-pong this story throws up, and the difficulty readers have in ascertaining the truth. Is Scoble a Microsoft source? Is the fact that a Microsoft spokesperson “concludes” the story is not true, is it not true? I’m agnostic on whether the story is true or not (a fancy way of saying I don’t really care). But I think certain basic journalistic standards apply here. Such as
Someone writing the story should get an official comment on the assertion, and include that comment, or non-comment in the piece. Not to do so on anything remotely controversial is a professional lapse. To do so shows you’ve at least tried to get the story confirmed.
People citing, picking up or linking to the story should make their source clear, in a link and a mention of the source. Not to do so leaves the writer vulnerable should the story not be true, but, more importantly, gives the reader a chance to judge for himself the veracity of the story. (It would also help, in the case of obscure publications, to include some background on the source to assist the reader in this.)
When a writer finds a story they believe to be untrue, they should try to contact the author for comment when publishing their ‘knock-down’ story. At the very least, they must show they have authoritative sources who contest the story’s accuracy or veracity (not the same thing) and make this clear. They might also choose careful language which allows for the possibility of gray between the black and the white — “source X said he knew of no such meeting/product/agreement”, or “company X denied the story and said on the contrary it had no plans for xxxx”. Saying something is a hoax/has no truth to it/is bogus without enclosing the comment in quotes is not only a tad extreme, it’s not good journalistic practice. Imagine if someone did it to you.
Let’s see what Mr. Glover and The Business come up with on Sunday. Maybe all this is a storm in a teacup and we’re all comparing apples and oranges. But I’m all for a bit of temperance on the part of journalists and bloggers alike when dealing with the truth or lack of truth of another person’s story. Let he who casts the first stone be dang sure his version is pristine white.