Purest of the pure? Slashdot lays claim to being 'professional'!

January 11, 2006

The tech bits and pieces website Slashdot describes itself as a site which carries "news for nerds." It also has pretensions to being a journalistic effort. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Slashdot lives and dies by using other people's stories. Borrow a few pars, link to the site and hey, there's news for nerds all served up and ready to eat - even though there may be mild fits of indigestion to follow. At least if the people selecting stories used some basic criteria which were consistent - which is what news selection is all about - the hypocrisy wouldn't be compounded. But such is not the case.

Today Slashdot is hotly defending itself against claims of bias - claims that it favours some of its submitters over others and that it is in league with people who are trying to plug their own wares by linking back to their own commercial pages. Of course, when this kind of rant comes from an avowedly open source site which makes money by accepting ads from the likes of Microsoft, it does sound something like a common whore ranting about the virtues of virginity. I'll let that pass.

In the midst of this long "we-are-the-best-professionals-and-have-no-bias-whatever" tirade from Rob Malda, the founder of the site, there is a little gem which tells the careful reader that this site is basically a job done on the run (and I quote): "A persistent user can simply start spamming the bin with a submission about everything he finds that comes even close. If he does it enough, he'll get a few through. Especially if he manages to get something reasonable in at 11pm when there's little else to choose from."

In newspaper parlance that would equate to advising a reader to send enough letters on a subject and telling him or her that one will definitely get published - provided it is "reasonable" (whatever that means). There is no mention of quality. It would appear that the people who select from among the submissions know little about the existence of such a word in the English language.

Some of the confusion may stem from the fact that every two-bit individual, who writes a few paragraphs on some obscure website or the other, now lays claims to be a journalist. Journalism is much more than this but to the simpletons of this world - and the US of A has a fine example to follow in the persona of George Dubya Bush - writing is all it takes to be a member of this trade.

There is one more statement in this rant which made me laugh out loud. I quote again:"Now these submitters (referring to people against allegations of bias have been raised) each have their problems. In Roland's case, he likes to link to his personal blog where he writes mediocre summaries of stories that add nothing to the original. In BBs case, he just cuts and pastes paragraphs from linked pages. Both use their return link to link a web page which is, in my opinion, pretty worthless."

Did I get that right? Is he talking about "good writing'? On Slashdot? Where even the peculiar form of English used in America is murdered at least 20 times in a single day?

 Journalism has lost a lot of its shine due to the inability of people within its portals to accept criticism when they are wrong. Or when they are strenuously spouting a line which is suspiciously close to what a government wants its people to believe. Blogs came into their own in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 because the mainstream US media were running the government line and bloggers exposed their lies. 

But that doesn't mean that there aren't journalists who are still true to their craft. One can speak with authority on this, being a practitioner of the trade for nearly three decades in three countries - and still having to work for a living.

Back to Slashdot. There are sites which try to eliminate some of Slashdot's failings by asking readers to vote for stories and make them popular. Sure, all we need are a few yarns about cyber sex and the failings of this method will be more than apparent. And then there are sites which indulge in petty criticism of Slashdot - but a lot of this appears to be personal.

Now that we've seen what Slashdot is not, here are a few characteristics of the site. It is insular in the extreme - if something happens in the US, it is always of more importance than if it were to happen in any other country. Why, the owners even justify this insularity!

The people who work at Slashdot and put up other people's stories have rather big chips on their shoulders.  I know this from personal experience - I have quite a few examples but this story, one among many which I've submitted in the past, should suffice to show that the person who submits the story is more important than the story itself.

Here's another example. If this story has no takers among the so-called nerds who frequent Slashdot, then I'm Saddam Hussein.

The problem with Slashdot - and this will one day work against it - is that the people working there can't accept criticism. My submissions are turned down because I have criticised them in the past - and will continue to do so when needed. If the one who lays claim to being the emperor has no clothes, then I'm not going to keep quiet about it.

I think  it's time for the people at Slashdot to accept reality  - they are no  better than any of the other commercial sites which slant stories to increase traffic and make money. And as with every other site, once it gets some traction, those running it tend to think they are above the law. It happens in real life too, boys -  just have a look at the capital of your country.