Bloggers: Would You Rather Be First Or Right?

To all my blogger friends, I would love to hear opinions on whether it is more responsible for us to be right vs. first when reporting information. Is speculation okay? Is it useful?

As content becomes more and more valuable and as we each try to increase awareness of our blogs, build our following, and increase traffic, how important is it to ensure that our facts are correct before we hit the “Publish” button? If I just spout out statements like “Facebook announces that it’s going to buy Twitter” or “Apple is discontinuing the iPad 1 due to iOS 5 crashes”, I might generate a bunch of SEO traffic and boost my readership, but what value did I actually provide to my readers by publishing unsupported facts?

Normally, I would just post this question on Twitter (and I will), but I thought the dialog might be more engaging if we leveraged blog comments. I’d love to hear your feedback on whether you’d rather be first or right when breaking news on your blog.

Do bloggers have a responsibility to check their facts before publishing content? Is something true just becasue we heard it on a blog, Facebook, or Twitter?

To add to this, do journalistic tenets of ethics, source validation, etc… apply to blogging? Merriam-Webster defines journalism as:

Definition of JOURNALISM

a : the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media b : the public press c : an academic study concerned with the collection and editing of news or the management of a news medium
a : writing designed for publication in a newspaper or magazine b : writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation c : writing designed to appeal to current popular taste or public interest

(source: Merriam-Webster definition of Journalism at, accessed 02/11/2012)

If you read that definition literally, blogging doesn’t fall within that definition. It could be argued that blogs are becoming the modern equivalent of newspapers and magazines, but are usually slanted more toward the editorial views. So, can we just apply the same tenets of journalism to blogging?



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Comments And Reactions

  1. I do not even understand how I finished up right here, but I believed
    this submit was great. I don’t recognize who you’re however definitely you
    are going to a well-known blogger if you are not already.

  2. Last week a rumour went round that dogs were being poisoned where I live. It turns out that one dog scavenged and ate something dodgy and local vets said there was no evidence of poison. Yet local blogs and sites carried a number of stories about this without people checking first. Rumours caused people to boycott a specific area for no reason. Instant communication can be very useful, but should have make clear if information has not been confirmed or is speculative.

  3. Lean towards accuracy

  4. Corporatethief Beats says

    Yeah it is one to ponder on! I remember I spent a good few hours on a post and a video on how to set up a simple adwords campaign and I never new that adwords had just changed their interface slightly the day before.Lucky for me my brother spotted it and told me so I could make the changes before some one of my readers did. In the words of Homer J Simpson DOHHHH!

  5. Patrick Griffin says

    Hi Sean,
    You ask three questions:
    (i) Is more responsible for us to be right vs. first when reporting information?
    (ii) Is speculation okay?
    (iii) Is it useful?

    As someone who has worked as a journalist for more than 20 years I think I can answer your main question and have a fairly good idea what I am talking about.

    My view is this: when reporting information you have an absolute duty to get it right and if that means not being first to break the news then so be it.

    If your information is wrong then it is also meaningless and if you provide readers with meaningless content often enough then your credibility as a provider of information in your niche will be lost.

    As for speculation being ok and useful well the answer is “it depends.”

    It can be useful to report on speculation, and established journalists do it all the time…just look at all the speculation we saw in the weeks and months leading up to the launch of Apple’s iPhone 5.

    However when reporting speculation, as in reporting solid information, there is also a duty to get the facts right here too and not fall into the trap of reporting mere speculation as established fact.


    • Sean R. Nicholson says

      Great distinctions, Partrick!

      I agree that right+first is usually the best combination and I don’t disagree that speculation can be valuable. What drives me nuts is when authors present their speculation as though it were facts.

      We all have opinions and blogging is often about speculation, but there needs be some research behind the speculation, not just flat-out hopeful guessing so you can get a keyword-rich title into the search engines first with the hopes of driving traffic.

      Maybe I should have asked whether factual analysis is more valuable than page traffic. I feel another blog post coming on πŸ™‚

      Thanks for the great insights!


  6. Mighty Casey says

    Oh. My. GAWD. Thank you – as someone who spent 20+ years in network news before hitting the digital airwaves, I’m long steeped in the broth of “two source confirmation BEFORE pushing the story out”. Bloggers often feel as though they don’t have to follow the same rules, but if you truly want to drive traffic as a news source … you gotta be trustworthy. Meaning rumormongering is out, unless you label it clearly as rumor.

  7. Simon Robinson says

    I’m guessing some of your readers are going to get fed up with the mis-information whilst others are going to love the gossip – which is the greater and which you wish to attract only the blogger can decide!

  8. You’ll be swept away & discarded if you’re not right

  9. I’m like the Fonz. when I’m not first and right, I’ll just have to settle for right. πŸ˜‰

  10. David Sanger says

    Always always strive to be as accurate as possible. The whole enterprise depend on it. Thanks Sean

  11. Steve Cassady says

    I think being right is important, being first won’t pay off over the long haul, if you are wrong.

  12. Dennis Coble says

    IMO, Real is better than First. Sharing is good, but it is difficult to eat our words. Once an action has taken place, it can never be undone, it can only be forgotten.

  13. I prefer an accurate accounting of the facts, no need for senseless embellishment.
    Information should be in proper context.

  14. Harold Gardner says

    The previous comments seem to suggest there is no value in speculation. That just is wrong. There is a long and honorable tradition of guessing, but it needs to be labeled as such. We learn a lot by educated guesses and the responses to them.

    Being first also has value; otherwise you are writing a history book.

  15. People are eager to share news, some would call it gossip. Proof of information provides a lot of credibility.

  16. While being first can help you gain publicity, being wrong about a subject can also destroy your reputation.

  17. lastbabyboomer says

    I have always felt that the rush to be first is far more important than being right to some.

  18. Buddy Hodges says

    Hi Sean,

    One big difference between internet media (blogs, social networks, article sites, etc.) and traditional media is the permanence of the posts. Due to search engines and links from other media, the content we publish is “out there forever (yikes!).” That is one reason to be even more careful to be right now.

    However, one could enhance a go-to relevance by noting a rumor or a hunch or partial information — with the caveat that it is tentative and preliminary. A truthful disclaimer could avoid “permanent” embarrassment.

  19. The three attributes of report writing are Accuracy, Brevity and Clarity, a News or Technical Blog should be no different.
    This is especially true if the author is describing events such as news or events that hold public interest.
    A personal perspective or narrative are different. These are perceptions and not purely based upon fact; then the nomenclature can vary – I believe that, it was reported that, witnesses said etc. Once these phrases are used then the reader knows that this is not necessarily accurate but may none the less be relevant.
    Web Logs – blogs are overwhelmingly personal perspectives and should be treated, by their very nature, as personal opinions. If clarification is need then attributed text with authorship should be offered. The president said

    So in answer to your question. On the whole ABC’s are important, speculation is at best foolish and at worst dangerous.

  20. Love the dialogue! I lean toward being right, rather than being first. Being first and wrong damages your credibility in the long run and then it won’t matter whether you’re first to the chase. What’s the point when crying wolf gets you no where?

    However, there is always room for being first to pose the question. It’s not rumor spreading if it’s allowing others to weigh-in on their thoughts, right?

    Thanks Sean! Great stuff, as always!

  21. I’ll take accurate over first any day (for my own blog and for other blogs I read). I have a mental list of credible blogs, especially when it comes to breaking news. The list of blogs that aren’t on that list are on there because they lost my trust at some point. That being said, Mashable and TechCrunch post speculation all the time.

    • Sean R. Nicholson says

      Good point, Kyle. Theoretically, users will stop trusting speculative blogs and will naturally migrate toward those that are more factual. I guess the lesson to bloggers is if they are in it for the long-haul, stay away from speculation and stick with well-researched articles.



  22. Great thoughts Sean! I would tend towards accuracy than being first. As a blogger, I value the people who follow my blog activity regularly and they will not find my content useful if it is always being proven inaccurate. Quality over quantity, I suppose.

    • Sean R. Nicholson says

      Funny how it all comes back to quality, eh Jenni? I’d rather be known for well-researched, high quality posts any day. The problem is, Google doesn’t technically care if your posts are accurate or researched.

      Google will drive traffic to you if your article meets the criteria of their algorithm, which is what has led to the creation of link farms and content aggregation sites that don’t actually provide any new content. The Google Panda update did crack down on these sites, but I’m not sure that it actually had any impact on original-source content that is purely speculative or flat-out wrong.

      I guess we’ll have to see what Google has up their sleeve for future updates, in the meantime, I’ll be choosing to skip the speculation.



  23. Larry Jennings says

    While there is always something to be gained by being the “first” to break a story, having it denied and recanted can sometimes cause more harm then good. There should ALWAYS be the need to have a story right, even if it takes a bit longer to get. It goes a lot to show the integrity of the writer or news source and perhaps they might not break the story, but they may have the better news story will all of the relevant facts.

    There is a local news Twitter account that has a habit of publishing news and then saying it was denied. They don’t look too good after that.

    • Sean R. Nicholson says

      Thanks, Larry! As you can probably guess, I’m a big fan of being right, rather than first. I see a lot of speculation out there that readers rely on that ends up being wrong. I have always operated on the credo that “The only thing worse than no information is bad information, because people treat bad information like it’s right.”

      I agree, too, that in the long term, publishing bad information will likely hurt your reputation, which will diminish the trust of your blog.



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