Can Blogs Fool Mainstream Media? Ryan Holiday’s “Trust Me, I’m Lying”

by admin on September 4, 2012


This  is the second article on Ryan Holiday’s “Trust Me, I’m Lying—Confessions of a Media Manipulator.”  Holiday heaps tons of blame on both blogs and the mainstream media for lack of fact checking.

See the first at .

The premise of the book is something he refers to as “trading up the chain;” convince blogs on the lower edges to run with a story and work your way up to more popular blogs and on to mainstream media.

It begs the question; can you really fool mainstream media by placing misinformation (lies?) in a blog?

He reminds us that the lack of fact checking among bloggers is a real problem. Once “facts” are printed they are transmitted and reused over and over again until mainstream media takes notice (trading up the chain).

Anyone following the plight of the news media knows that newsrooms have been dramatically reduced to the point where it’s either easier or possible to get information or context wrong.

Trust in the media.  Reductions in media staff:

Trust: Per Pew, for the second time in a decade, the credibility-believability ratings for major news organizations have suffered broad-based declines. “In the new survey, positive believability ratings have fallen significantly for nine of 13 news organizations tested. “

Overall, the negative views of all media sources measured increased from 30 percent in 2002 to 44 percent in 2012.

Staff: Also from Pew, “Network news division resources are likely down from their peak in the late 1980s by more than half — which amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars — and new rounds of cuts came in the last 12 months. Local television is harder to gauge, but one estimate puts the losses in the last two years at over 1,600 jobs, or roughly 6%. Staffing at the news magazines Time and Newsweek since 1983 is down by 47%.”

There are multiple and credible sources citing dramatic declines of staff at newspapers.

Lack of staff-lack of trust. So what?

A noted commenter on my first article hammered home the point via Linked-In that blogs are personal opinion; mainstream media is solely responsible for doing the fact checking necessary.

I simply acknowledge that mainstream media’s capacity to be the final arbitrator of facts is compromised by the lack of staff and lack of specialized reporters who are experts on topics. I’m not apologizing for the media, but any organization that has suffered as mightily as mainstream media as to trust and staff simply cannot process the same volume of information as in the past. It’s impossible.

We know from research that the majority of reporters are reading blogs. What we don’t know is the degree of influence.

To be fair, there are lots of very big media sources that are entertainment or sports or tech related that do not have the same ethics as the New York Times or mainstream news sources. To lump them all together as one is not a fair comparison.

So what’s a fair conclusion?

My 30 years plus of working with reporters tells me that fact checking among mainstream “news” media is strong but challenged. Reporters do read blogs and are influenced by them but they still return to the source (targeted agency) for comment. And reporters will decline stories after a review of the facts.

But anyone with fair judgment understands that reporters are doing more than ever before (researching, writing, blogging, gaining video and audio for the website) and beats (using knowledgeable, topical reporters) are fewer than ever.

Even the fact checkers can analyze the same data and come to different conclusions (cite below). It takes experience and skill to create context.

Thus knowledgeable and respected bloggers will have more influence than ever before; it’s hard to conclude otherwise.

Not the last article on Holiday’s book:

This is the second but not the last article on Holiday’s book. Regardless as to what I believe are some over-generalizations, Holiday does us all a favor by dragging us through the ever-changing realities of social and mainstream media.

If his book doesn’t convince us to take the misinformation issue seriously and prepare, I don’t know what will.

Best, Len.

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