Beanery Online Literary Magazine

February 21, 2008

DOES EXAGGERATING THE TRUTH CREATE GOOD STORIES?

To locate more interesting articles, surf the categories on the side of this site, or click on the following:A REVIEW OF RESPONSES TO CAMPBELL’S BEST BUY LAWSUIT: Part 1 & A REVIEW OF RESPONSES TO CAMPBELL’S BEST BUY LAWSUIT: Part 2 & RUSS’S ASSIGNMENT: WRITE CAROLYN’S EULOGY Lent Devotion & IN SEARCH OF THE ARABELLA: A STORY OF TWO BOATS

Below is a review of discussion material for the February 22, 2008, Beanery Writers Group meeting. We invite your comments below.

Are you allowed to exaggerate, misinterpret or even lie in order to make a story “good?”

Lee Horselogger (leehorselogger.com) said he is happy when a writer presents his story 80% accurately. I’ll assume that the 20% error he allows covers natural and/or careless mistakes reporters tend to make.

In the book The Thirteenth Tale, the main character asks: Don’t you think one can tell the truth much better with a story? A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth. My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? When the lightning strikes shadows on the bedroom wall and the rain taps at the window with its long fingernails? NO. When fear and cold make a statue of you in your bed, don’t expect hard-boned and fleshless truth to come running to your aid. What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.

The author of an Internet article, Would You Exaggerate the Truth for a Good Story?, said that since many bloggers are trying to make a living online, they can’t help but think about ways to increase traffic.

One of the best ways to get traffic is to write something interesting/controversial. Articles that do well often criticize a person or institution. Titles like “Congressman does Good work, in finding a thoughtful solution to this longstanding problem” just don’t get attention. Thus, every blogger, (and to be fair every journalist and story teller) has an incentive to sensationalize and perhaps exaggerate an initial story.

The problem is that it’s easy to ignore the costs to others of misleading claims. A lot can be said for being very cautious before jumping on a bandwagon of criticism.

At the same time of course, bloggers can raise awareness of issues that traditional media ignore. But this potential must be met with responsibility.

In another Internet article, The Dangers of the Blogging Rumor Mill, Darius Monsef told of contacting Nissan to confirm a story regarding their new color changing paint technology, a story that he picked up on several blogs, only to find out that Nissan had no idea what he was talking about. In his search to uncover where exactly this bad information came from, he traced a history of posts that embellished the original story with minor lies. Other posts referenced the information in those posts as fact.

Monsef had revealed what must be an embarrassing incident for some top-name blogs like Engadget, Gizmodo, and Wired. He boils it down like this: in only three days, the details of the story went from: ‘color changing paint technology is being viewed by Nissan and other auto companies’ to…‘Nissan talking up their bogus but juicy claim to have developed a self-healing paint system that can actually change color based on your mood, will be on production vehicles by 2010.’

Incidents like this give blogging—and other forms of writing—a bad name.

Although not all bloggers have had formal journalism training, they should have common sense to realize that sources should always be checked and stories should never be embellished with misinformation.

In the Nissan story, some of blogging’s defining characteristics failed. First, the blogosphere is basically a giant echo chamber. Since many blogs tend to cover the same stories, they often source each other. This leads to a fascinating level of conversation unheard of in traditional print media. It also leads to the spread of misinformation if a story is poisoned along the way. It’s like what occurs in the childhood game of telephone.

Second, bloggers don’t have the same editorial management as does the traditional media outlet. There is little in the way of fact checkers and editors, who make sure your entire story is kosher. (Not always true—editors can also goof! I can attest to that!)

The fact that bloggers can respond to news in an immediate and unfiltered fashion means that there is very little in the way to stop them from inaccurate writing, either purposely or accidentally. It’s tough to be one’s own editor. Utilizing a blogging buddy will give writers a fresh pair of eyes on a story.

Of course, traditional media outlets can have similar gaffs. That still doesn’t excuse this fiasco. Blogging is still a very young form of journalism, and bloggers have to realize that everything they do, from catching great stories, to embarrassments such as this, are all viewed more critically than most other forms of journalism. This is especially true for professional bloggers, since they are viewed as being “legitimate.”

Hopefully this incident will serve as a cautionary tale on journalistic integrity for budding bloggers.

What can bloggers learn from all of this?

It is far too easy to pick-up and push along stories in the blogosphere. Every time we “hear and tell,” a few of the details get transformed into something else. Bloggers and readers should do more to research the facts and original sources before jumping to the publish button.

How else will we establish blogging as a credible, journalistic endeavor?

One CEO said he thinks there is a difference between exaggerating the facts and looking for an interesting angle on a topic. It is a critical balance to maintain.

THE FOLLOWING WEBSITES WERE REFERENCED FOR THIS DISCUSSION:
Would You Exaggerate the Truth for a Good Story? file:///F:/BW%20MTG%20FUTURE%20TOPICS%20070101/TRUTH%20IN%20WRITING%20080222/Would%20You%20Exaggerate%20the%20Truth%20for%20a%20Good%20Story%20%20_%20Net%20Writing.htm The Dangers of the Blogging Rumor Mill

http://www.dailybits.com/the-dangers-of-the-blogging-rumor-mill/

The book, The Thirteenth Tale, is written by Diane Setterfiel

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2 Comments »

  1. Bloggers are passing the same pig around, dressing it according to individual preference and applying more lipstick each time. Perhaps an effort at original stories should be attempted rather than this mad effort to rehash the daily news.

    Comment by Mike — February 22, 2008 @ 5:56 pm | Reply

  2. […] DOES EXAGGERATING THE TRUTH CREATE GOOD STORIES? […]

    Pingback by Announcements for Writers: March 4, 2010 « Beanerywriters’s Weblog — March 5, 2010 @ 12:43 am | Reply


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