User Generated Content Vs. Professional Journalism

For the past few days, I have been aware of an amusing case of mistaken identity that has generated a series of postings on a Yahoo! Finance discussion board. I should point out that the mistaken identity actually refers to me... and this blog.

Around ten days ago, someone posted a question on the Yahoo! discussion board asking whether I could be the same person as a senior executive with the same name at a company called InfoSpace Inc. To be honest, until last week, I'd never heard of InfoSpace Inc., which from conducting an online search, appears to be a US-based mobile media company that supplies ring tones and music to mobile operators.

I am amazed that there are so many gullible people who quickly become involved in an entirely meaningless online discussion. If any of the participants had read my previous postings it would be obvious to them that I have no connection to InfoSpace. Despite this, someone actually wrote "Again, I'm not 100% sure Sun's Stephen Davis is INSP's Stephen Davis. But from reading his blog, I strongly believe he is." Another contributor wrote "He could be in London blogging for Sun but drawing some INSP consulting revenue for providing the occasional quote". Fascinating stuff - you couldn't write a better script.

Entertainment and comedy value aside, in the so-called blogosphere this episode highlights how readers should question and challenge the content of blogs and discussion boards in the same way they do other forms of publishing and media.  If I had been published as a column in let's say the Financial Times, would this discussion group have got so excited?  It also illustrates how rumours can (and frequently do) fuel herd instinct investor behaviour - particularly at the margins.

Online discussion boards and personal blogs are no different to any form of writing or journalism except that in most cases they provide a certain amount of anonymity for the author - and arguably less accountability.  They will never replace professional by-lined journalism that is commissioned and published by companies specialising in producing editorial content for publication.

In an online media environment increasingly populated by user-generated content (Web 2.0) and a broadcast and publishing market chasing more difficult to find audiences, the value of professional journalism becomes even more important.

Maybe as a colleague suggested, I should set-up blogs.sun.com/billclinton or blogs.sun.com/billgates.

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