Newspapers trump Web in accuracy

The Internet has many great qualities. Of course it does. You can send information, pictures and video around the world almost instantly. It’s funny how that also seems to be one of the Internet’s biggest downfalls.

Anyone with a computer and an axe to grind can say just about anything about anyone. Sadly, the Internet is largely an unfiltered and unregulated dumping ground that’s rife with thoughtless, rude and hateful comments about even the simplest things.

At one time we entertained the idea of providing readers with a link to a cool video of the day on Youtube.com … that is until you read the disgusting comments, put downs and otherwise rude behavior that goes with many of the videos, not by the people who post them, but by the viewers. Sorry, we’re not providing links to that type of trash.

That’s not really the worst of it. When it’s obvious that someone is being rude, you know exactly how to categorize it. But what about information that seems plausible and credible?

Since anyone with a computer can have a Web site about anything, such as cars, how do you know that what you’re reading is good info? Fair comment as well informative stories are always welcome and that’s likely for the most part what you’ve come to expect from this newspaper.

The powers that be won’t stand for the type of brainless nonsense that goes on in the vast expanse of the Internet and quite frankly, if we wrote the kind of garbage you see on some Web sites, we wouldn’t be in business right now.

It costs big money for solid reporting, editing and to have news agencies such as the Associated Press and Reuters put people all over the globe so that when you open your paper, you can feel confident that you’re getting the hot news of the day. Not bad for the price of a cup of coffee. I think we’ve become spoiled and take our newspapers for granted. How so? Without them, you would not only have no idea what’s going on in your town (I don’t care what any Web site professes to provide) but often what little information you would find online stands a better chance of being wrong. Parasitic revenue losses to the Internet should not fool anyone into thinking the information out there is somehow better than what you find in your newspaper. Quite the contrary and it only takes a short time hunting around online to make this blatantly obvious.

I’m not saying that newspapers are perfect, but they’re still the most credible source for news of all types, mostly because there are so many eyes watching what goes on. The same goes for many other print publications in the auto world, not to mention Web sites. Many newspaper reporters have blogs, too, so it’s important not to write off the whole blogging thing.

But who is your editor when you get out into the blogosphere? Try to remember that when you stumble over some Web page that rails on about a vehicle such as the Honda Accord Crosstour, which is where I’m actually headed here.

When Honda released photos of its rounded wagon, I could almost hear the laptops from the online peanut gallery fire up to rip holes in its design. Some comments were utter garbage and not worth the pixels that filled the page. Sadly, unsubstantiated gossip and subjective criticism are taken as fact by some readers, probably because, generally, books, TV and newspapers have established a credibility benchmark that has been assumed by Internet sites. Many don’t come under the same kind of scrutiny as this newspaper, so we should be careful about painting them with the same brush. The simple fact is that spouting off online has a huge measure of anonymity. It’s writing without consequence.

Out in the real world, we were busy driving the new Crosstour and the stories we wrote were balanced, fair and informative. Perhaps you read them in these pages or on this newspaper’s Web site.

The bottom line is that a 100-year-old institution such as a newspaper has a reputation and credibility to protect. Someone sitting in their living room spouting off rude and hateful information doesn’t. They can afford to be wrong, arrogant, offensive and foolish because they can just start a new page tomorrow. For serious people who want to inform you, journalism and newspapering is a career. Blogging is a pastime and good sport. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and remember that there are plenty of great automotive Web sites out there, but for someone with limited time to spend hunting for real information, it’s important to know the difference between the two.

Rhonda Wheeler is a journalist with Wheelbase Communications, a worldwide supplier of automotive news, features and reviews. You can e-mail her by logging on to www.wheelbase.ws/mailbag.html.

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