Snopes’ emphasis on fact-checking was purely grassroots in nature at first, and reflected the fact that the internet was a key source for people making stuff up. It wasn’t like fact-checking sources from the pre-internet era, which were more institutional, but instead came from the bottom up.
In fact, all of these examples represent bottom-up growth. And I think in a lot of ways, because they emerged from the internet rather than from a traditional source of funding or a traditional gatekeeper, it made them exciting. But I think that when things travel into a sphere like journalism without doing the J-school work, it sometimes leaves them open to clear gaps in news judgment. Many of us suck at media literacy, in part because most of us never got the training
For his part, Mikkelson sort of admitted this in his comments to BuzzFeed.
“I didn’t come from a journalism background,” he told the outlet. “I wasn’t used to doing news aggregation. A number of times I crossed the line to where it was copyright infringement. I own that.”
(One might argue that he’s been doing this for decades and should have known better at this late juncture, to which I say—yeah, fair. But gaps are gaps.)
When I got into journalism, I was basically part of the last generation that would almost fully join the field through the traditional farm system of small papers to midsized papers to large papers. That system still exists, but it’s no longer what it once was. These days, journalism is far more likely to emerge from online outlets that have greatly improved their standards over the years. BuzzFeed is an excellent example of this—love or hate their listicles, when they report stuff, it’s usually quite solid, as this piece on Snopes is.
But it’s worth keeping in mind that online journalism was once seen as the wilderness. And just because some of those sites born in the wilderness made it through to the present day doesn’t mean that their rough edges have been sanded down.
For better or for worse, they’re still there. Occasionally, they poke out.