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The Role of Research in Great Content

To a large degree, blogging can be considered a form of journalism. While there are blogs that focus on specific topics rather than events, just as many are driven by the goings-on around the world. Political blogs, news blogs, educational blogs — each of these has a strong rationale for being very much aware of real events and reporting on them in a timely manner.

However, this focus on timeliness can create a sort of mental trap that blog writers, just like traditional journalism types, can fall into.

Consider two stories that took place this year, one back toward the beginning of the year and another which happened more recently.

The first is the now well-known vanity story Gay Girl in Damascus. Reporting out of the “Arab Spring” taking place across much of the Middle East, this blog had something for everyone. A young lesbian woman in a fundamentalist religious nation, a father willing to stand up to the secret police, late-night raids, ongoing war and much more beside. It was easy to see why it became so popular, offering the drama of teenaged years alongside the real human pathos of bigotry and violence in a war-torn nation. Of course, it was all a hoax. It was actually written by Tom MacMaster, a heterosexual American man who wasn’t anywhere near Damascus or any of the other cities of the Arab Spring. But by the time this was revealed, many news outlets had reported on the brave Gay Girl blog.

The second story is more recent, and concerned reports that certain departments of the U.S. government had been ordering $16 muffins for their meals. It speaks immediately of the stories of all the government waste, fraud and abuse we’ve heard of in the past, from super-expensive staplers to government officials trying to fire people who crossed their families. And again, the facts of the story turn out to be pretty mundane: The receipts were simply abbreviated, listing only the muffins but with the price including tip, service and other consumables. Yet again, the story circulated for several days before the truth came to light, and once again the ability of the media to report accurately has been called into question.

Now, in the case of Gay Girl, very little harm was done by reporting on it. After all, the blog was up and posts were being made… the blog had a serious following. And the fact that it did seem all a bit too good to be true did lead to some solid investigative journalism which brought reporters squarely to the truth of the matter. But the muffins story was rather shoddily done, seeing as the ultimate technique required to get to the truth involved simply calling the facilities in question and getting some information about how the receipts broke down.

So with those lessons fresh in our minds, we want to avoid this kind of half-cocked mistake for our own blogging efforts.

Fortunately, the solution here is incredibly easy. If you aren’t 100 percent sure of a story, don’t run it as if you are. Instead, present the known “facts” as qualified by circumstances, cite your sources and watch the story as it evolves, being sure to bring your readership along with you.

Some more specific principles also can help guide you along.

1 – Research Extensively

As seen in both of the cases above, the truth can usually be tracked down. Whether it’s as simple as confirming whether a blog’s IP address really is coming from where the author says it is, or as complicated as checking out a dozen back story facts, the truth really is out there, and the more evidence you have, the closer you can get to it. If you aren’t sure of something, spend some extra time researching the matter.

2 – Research Some More

This might sound like a cheeky follow-up, but the point is actually to keep doing the research after you post a controversial piece of content. In the story of Gay Girl, things didn’t quite seem right. Too perfect, too unique a story to really be all that it said it was. So the writers who uncovered the truth did so by continuing to research the story and cross-check new information with old. Cultivate this as a habit — be willing to re-verify details after you post them, and as soon as you know that you’ve made a mistake or have a piece of info that may cause you to reinterpret, make a post about it immediately.

3 – Be Willing to Make Mistakes

This might fly in the face of the whole idea we’ve been discussing about needing to research everything very carefully before making posts, but there is always another side to a story. The Gay Girl story in particular illustrates this one for us. Yes, it ultimately turned out to be an elaborate hoax or fantasy scenario. However, it still brought up very important issues such as sexual orientation and the status of women in the Middle East. It also brought to light the way in which we perceive and accept our news sources; we aren’t as rational a species as we might think — emotions still can catch us and control us. So don’t let a desire to be accurate paralyze you into uncertainty. You’re blogging because you want to write, so definitely write! Just be willing to take ownership of what you’ve written, and revisit it later to correct mistakes as you identify them.

Author Bio:- Ben Porter is a co-founder of Brandsplat. Brandsplat creates blogs, articles and social media in the “voice” of our client’s brand. For the free Brandsplat Report go to Brandsplat.com or visit our blog.

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