April Fools and the My Bad Strategy

Well, I guess I owe Ted Stevens, the former senior U.S. senator from Alaska, at least a modest apology. Like many with the capacity to self-publish these days, I was fairly harsh on him as he was being tried — and eventually convicted — late last year on a host of generally speaking ethics charges. Yesterday the Justice Department asked a judge to dismiss the charges — and I expect the next step is to look at whether the prosecutors acted improperly and maybe illegally. Uh, Mr. and Ms. Prosecutor, My Bad?

Stevens’ career in the Senate was wrecked, of course. And I wonder how many of us pajama-clad citizen journalists will move the new story around the blogosphere today with the same gusto as the previous ones?  More importantly, would it even matter? Like many (most?) these days, I took what was written by the mainstream media, added a comment or two, and passed it along. I don’t believe that I “reported” anything inaccurate. Still, you have all that information out there that well, isn’t quite correct as it turns out.

As Kathleen Parker opines in The Washington Post, “Too Much Information, Too Little Understanding.”

This raises some concerns, for me at least, as stories move from site to site, and Tweet to Tweet — and ever more quickly with far fewer editorial checks and balances. And I thought about that again this morning during the daily running tour of the neighborhood, based on some “stories” on Twitter yesterday. (Thanks to Dino Baskovic for that Facebook post.)

Early last night I read a story linked to a Twitter tweet (if that’s how you say it) that looked very much like a New York Times online report detailing the reported acquisition of Twitter by Facebook. Seemed reasonable to me — and I actually expect some day this will happened. So I napped peacefully during American Idol only to awake and learn that no, the story was an April Fools’ Day prank, one of many that made the rounds of the blogosphere yesterday.

HeHe. OK. The questions are these. How do you know what is accurate and true and what isn’t these days? Do those of us who retweet and repost have any obligation to verify at least the source of the information — if not the accuracy? Without the review and vetting process that really was the hallmark of traditional journalism, are we entering an era where we will have to rely on the “self-correcting” nature of the masses? Is that even possible?

Within this framework, I really believe that PR people — particularly those who aren’t tethered to a marketing organization — are going to have to step up and push for higher standards of honest, accurate, truthful and timely disclosure. As I’ve said many times, we can live without dead-tree editions of newspapers, but we can’t live without quality journalism. Perhaps there is an opportunity for PR people to be part of the reconfiguration and evolution of journalism here. Think about it.

And in the long run those that don’t are going to be viewed as manipulators. As nothing more than April Fools’ Day pranksters. Yeah. Virtually anyone can post and get some exposure for even a false and misleading story these days. That should be a concern — and don’t think for a minute that there aren’t people out there trying to figure out how to do it and how to get away with it.

After all, they just need to say in their defense: My Bad.

Right?

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