Friday, December 21, 2007

Blogs move beyond original concept, some carry liability for authors

Of late, I’ve discussed blogging with many different writers. Looking to the not so distant past, I remember when people first began to dash off Weblog confessionals. Most, but not all, early blogs tended to repeat the word “I” ad nauseam, were inclined to offer lots of personal information we don’t really want or need (who cares if you smoke two cigarettes after sex?), and came wrapped in writing that demonstrated less not more when it came to skill. Then mainstream media began to take note. Blogs were drawing readers and more importantly, some were being sold for large sums of money. Now just about every major media outlet has a blog section, and many newspapers offer readers free blogs.

With the blog going mainstream, I think a lot about content and liability. I’ve often mentioned the Orlando mom who was sued for criticizing her child’s school, and I heard a snippet yesterday on the radio that made me curious. There’s at least one major lawsuit in a New York court right now involving defamation. I didn’t catch the whole commentary because the host of the show (I don’t even know his name) cut to a commercial just as I was arriving at my destination.

I’ve come to the conclusion that blogs will ultimately end up being held to the standard established publications apply to professionally written content. The format is already changing—blogs hosted by Google and other services have gradually increased opportunities for design.

What we accepted in the early Weblog days is changing, with mainstream media increasingly featuring blog owners on talk-news shows and even in print features. I hold to my prediction lawsuits will increase. Once someone is defamed in a story on the Web, there’s a wildfire effect, with bloggers seizing the story with a simple goal of increasing traffic. Problem is many don’t do their homework, relying on a single source for information rather than doing the dull tedious research that any story deserves. Web stories hang around, unlike print stories that go into the recycle bin after a day or two.

I did a Web Savvy column at The Writer, interviewing an attorney about liability and copyright issues. Part I is up and Part II will publish after the first of the year.

I’d urge anyone who writes a personal blog to tread carefully with accusatory stories. Quote carefully and correctly, if for no other reason than fairness, and to avoid spending time and money with an attorney.


Sun Singer said...

When desktop publishing software came out, ANYONE could create something that looked like a newsletter. Thing is, they didn't know the rules of layout and their work suffered comparison with professional editors and designers.

Now we see the same thing happening in blogs and websites. ANYONE can say what they want. But they don't know the rules and libel is one of them. People were bound to start getting into trouble for taking the slander they were comfortable with in their neighbor's kitchen and putting it out there in front of the eyes of the world and it's attorneys.


Kay Day said...

You're right, Malcolm--and I think there are a of people who will be unpleasantly surprised. I've noticed bloggers often take information from other sites, assuming what's there is factual. But content can be changed immediately on the Web, and if something is corrected, those bloggers may never catch up to it.

I think lawyers will ultimately have a field day because of this. That's one reason I was so glad the attorney gave me the interview for Web Savvy. And I also posted the new article here, although the content of this one is different than that at The Writer, in hopes writers/bloggers would at least have an idea how important it is to take care when you're writing about others.

You always share such good thoughts. Thank you!--best, Kay