If any of you are following this AOL-TechCrunch drama in the tech blogosphere, well... sorry for you (and me). It's an ugly story that just keeps getting uglier. (I'll spare you the detailed recap and provide you with the link above instead.)
For some, this latest brouhaha may seem like just another chapter in the ongoing blogger vs. journalist debate. As a journalist, I see it as a turning point for journalism, a cleansing, if you will, that defines what is and isn't an appropriate conflict of interest for news outlets. But that's another post for another blog.
More to the point of this blog post, I see AOL's botched attempt at gaining any journalistic integrity as a manager of news sites as an opportunity for other non-journalism companies - notably, Google, Facebook and Twitter - to get their fingers into an advertising-driven industry without having to create original content.
As the dominant holders of the information about what we're looking for, what we're sharing and what we're talking about on the Internet, these companies have the ability to analyze the most trafficked sites on the Web and determine - dare I say it - their journalistic integrity.
Think about it. Google has search results, trending data, +1 clicks and, of course, its analytics product, while Facebook has its "likes" and "shares" and Twitter has it "retweets." They know which sites are getting the attention and the online love. They know how to track and monitor data.
I can envision it now: They could form a coalition, hire a bunch of real journalists - like with journalism degrees and real newsroom experience - and allow them to develop a ranking or rating system for at least the most widely read blogs, news sites and so on. Those sites would have special logos or be otherwise noted on social media or search results.
Of course, this shouldn't somehow imply that those don't rank highly are somehow less credible or not worthy of being showcased. There are plenty of amateur bloggers who don't gather news, break news or otherwise practice news reporting but who like to sound off about topics - and do so very well.
Case in point: This thought process of mine was sparked when I read a contributing post on Business Insider that was written by Aaron Holesgrove, who describes himself as an Australian based Web developer and the creator of OzTechNews.com. He doesn't claim to be a journalist but that doesn't mean he can't offer a well-thought-out analysis of the situation and offer an educated idea on how to solve a bigger problem. He had an interesting idea about treating journalism as a utility where reporters were licensed or certified to practice journalism. Hmmm...
The point is that some bloggers, such as the folks at TechCrunch, including founder and editor (for now) Michael Arrington, have been saying for a long time that they do not consider themselves to be "journalists" and that what they offer is not journalism, but instead researched and educated thoughts and opinions about business and product developments in the world of technology - or anything else they feel like ranting about.
It's important to remember that "journalism" and "news" are two different things. Journalism is about fairness, accuracy, objectivity and responsible reporting, as well as values, standards and ethics. The news business is about taking relaying information to the masses - sometimes by practicing journalism, other times not. Regardless, while the news business has grown beyond TV stations, newspapers and even news sites and blogging networks, the need for quality journalism has not gone away.
As a side note, I am involved with a number of organizations committed to journalism and have noticed a upswing in Google's commitment to these groups by way of conference workshops and sponsorships. Google has an interest in journalism - and I hope that Google has an interest in taking some of that data to help identify those that practice responsible journalism.
It doesn't seem like that much of a stretch. And it certainly could help bring these ugly examples of conflict, hypocrisy, hissy fits and incompetence - which have plagued this AOL-TechCrunch story - to an end.
What do you think? Should Google, Facebook, Twitter and other non-news tech companies get involved with the efforts to preserve journalism standards? Or does it even matter to anyone anymore?