It's amazing to watch the blogosphere jump on a story and advance it—maybe the better phrase is "inflate it"—beyond the available facts. It's even more amazing when the story is being hyped beyond recognition by blogging journalists who should know better—and when that story is about the very industry they work in.
Today's exhibit: Rupert Murdoch's supposed statement—originating in the Australian press, where direct quotes are sometimes fanciful to begin with—that he and News Corp. "expect" to transform the Wall Street Journal web site, WSJ.com, into a free site. He's hinted at this before, and the conversion has been much anticipated by members of the blogosphere who want WSJ.com to drop its subscription fees and join the rest of the free Web.
But it looks like that bias in favor of a free WSJ.com—and bias is what it is—has infected and inflated coverage of Murdoch's remarks. There are several blog posts out there stating as fact that WSJ.com is going free, as if an official announcement has been made by News Corp. and/or Dow Jones. Sample: "Wall St. Journal to Make Web Site Free" blares the headline on the Online News Association's CyberJournalist.net blog.
Well, no, not exactly. That's not what happened; there was no announcement like that. But here's a journalist-run blog, which you'd expect to have some professional standards, trumpeting it as a fait accompli.
In fact, the truth is a little more complicated than that. Indeed, it would appear that nothing's really been decided yet about WSJ.com—in fact, even Murdoch said, "We are studying it." And of course, he doesn't even own the Journal yet. "It is jumping the gun, people are jumping to conclusions here very quickly. We haven't even closed the deal yet," Michael Rooney, senior vice president and chief revenue officer for the Dow Jones media group, told Editor & Publisher. "Mr. Murdoch would like to have the largest, most robust site in business. Free is a way to look at that. But there is a lot of detail behind that. You have to work that out. You don't just flip the switch."
It is very much possible, indeed probably likely, that WSJ.com will go free. At some point. In some form. (You can bet it won't be entirely free—look for some sort of premium service, at minimum.) But nothing's been decided, and certainly nothing's been announced. Reporting anything else, as Rooney says, is "jumping the gun."
We hold bloggers to somewhat different standards than journalists, because the vast majority of them aren't, well, journalists. But is it too much to ask that journalist-bloggers retain a modicum of professional ethics about what they post and how they post it? Everybody who's been involved in stories that get caught up in the media blogosphere vortex seems to have a horror tale about a journalist-blogger posting something without checking facts or asking for comment—or jumping to conclusions based on personal biases. It happens way too often, and it's just sloppy. And when it comes from a journalist-blogger writing under the imprimatur of a journalism site, it's inexcusable.
There's a great line from All the President's Men that applies perfectly here, as it does to all journalism: "If you're going to hype it, hype it with the facts."
Update: Cyberjournalist.net has since updated its post with the more temperate comments from Dow Jones' Rooney.