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InnuenDON'T: How publishing gossip turns writers into prostitutes

It's time for a rant.

A tweet landed in my Twitter inbox today that turned my stomach. I'm not going to name who it was from or, indeed, publish the rumor itself. Suffice to say that in order to see details of the rumor, you have to click the Twitter link and then pay to see the article on the destination site.

Now, I've seen this kind of stuff for over a decade and a half of publishing on the Internet, and I feel as nauseatedly furious now as I did in the beginning when I see it.

Part of the reason why this is so is because (full disclosure) back in the infancy of my writing career, I passed a rumor along that I heard about a racer's potential sponsorship and new ride without bothering to fact-check on whether it was true. If the ethics violation and acting precisely how I had been taught not to act weren't enough, the racer ended up losing a potential sponsor deal with another company because of it.

It's been over a decade and I still feel guilty about it, even though time and my abject apologies eventually healed the rift I caused. But that's because I have a conscience. Unfortunately, the lure of page views and money has robbed others of theirs - because the gossip mill is still in full churn.

The advent of online publishing and social media has done nothing to stem the tide of rumor and innuendo. In fact, they have become weapons in the hands of predatory PR and marketing people. A well-placed rumor can throw a competitor into a tailspin of doubt, bad feelings and uncertainty. Sadly, there are plenty of outlets for this planted material to take root.

But my my deepest outrage is reserved for poseurs pretending to be legitimate journalists who, without a second thought about how their actions will affect others, blithely pass along all the gossip they can get their hands on in order to boost their online ad sales and increase their readership. They know that gossip draws fan interest like manure draws flies, and in many of these literary geniuses' minds the publication of rumor and gossip is indistinguishable from the concept of "scooping" other reporters. So much the better if their wallets are fatter.

The truth is, these "writers," these callous exploiters of scuttlebutt and slander are merely hastening the end of true journalism by their actions. They sell their ethics for money and attention as much as any publicity whore in Hollywood. And because there is an appetite for it in society, they prosper.

Well, I was brought up believing that just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. I suppose I come from the old school in that regard. Keep in mind that I certainly am not perfect, nor do I have a spotless history of my own - but mistakes are a different story. Most people learn from their mistakes - they don't seek to profit from repeating them.

It is a painful fact of life in the media that on occasion the things one publishes inevitably will end up hurting someone else. That reality is why writers with a conscience will exhaust all the means at their disposal to avoid doing so, regardless of losing a scoop or having reduced page views.

The sleep we get at night makes up for it.