Thursday, March 03, 2005

Bloggers vs. Reporters ...Enough, Already!

In the words of a post-beating Rodney King: Can't we all just get along?

Not that this measly request amounts to a hill of beans in these crazy, hyperbole-strewn times, but it's time for a truce in the so-called war between the mainstream media -- or MSM, as it's known in the blogosphere -- and the bloggers.

If anything, the battle between the opposing camps only illustrates how clueless each side is about the other.

There is no denying the considerable heft enjoyed by many bloggers, high as they are on the echo chamber of the Internet and the pit-bull ferocity of a bullied kid who stumbles across an elephant gun. The casualty list of the blogosphere is impressive, and it continues to grow: Trent Lott. Dan Rather. Ex-CNN exec Eason Jordan. Jeff Gannon, Male Prostitute.

Couple that with some well-publicized scandals of the MSM, i.e. Jayson Blair, and you have the makings of a media revolution.

But speaking as someone who was a professional reporter in a previous lifetime, I am bemused by how a growing number of bloggers believe we just don't need a mainstream media.

While there is certainly no magic to being a journalist, there is magic to the profession of journalism. And for every egregious scandal that tarnishes the industry, there are scores of other examples of great journalism.

That isn't to say the news media doesn't have its share of problems.

Most major news outlets belie an ideological slant -- sometimes on a daily basis -- whether it is The New York Times on the Left or Fox News on the Right.

TV news, in particular, is plagued by a last-gasp desperation for relevance, the nicotine-smeared ghost of Edward R. Murrow having been supplanted by jiggling boobs and squirrels on waterskis.

And granted, there is a sizable segment of journalists whose political bias is trumped only by their callousness, laziness and plain ol' ignorance.

But by and large, it is my experience that the the day-to-day practices of thousands of journalists, while flawed, are marked by noble intentions and admirable professionalism. These are the reporters who work hard, appreciate the responsibility they have and strive for clarity and balance. They manage to interpret the news without straying too far from that elusive ideal of objectivity. And in so doing, they help inform the public, expose the corrupt, aid the disenfranchised, keep democracy humming along and give us bloggers lots to carp about.

In Barron's, Howard R. Gold takes up for the Fourth Estate amid the matchup between the bloggers and the MSM:

"It has become fashionable these days for many in the media to indulge in self-flagellation, hail the emergence of 'citizen journalists' and applaud the death of dinosaurs who 'don't get it.'

"But as someone who has been working in new media for almost a decade and has often taken issue with established practices in our industry, I think that would be a huge mistake.

"Because professional journalists still do a better job than anyone else of informing the public about the most important events of our day.

"And it's vital to our democracy that we continue to do so, warts and all."

While Gold goes on to be rather dismissive of the blogosphere -- thereby fueling the rancor already harbored by many bloggers -- he still does make a salient point: Professional journalism is pretty damned important.

Moreover, there is room in this big ol' planet for both the new media and the blogosphere -- and thank God. After all, as far as size goes (yeah, yeah, I know -- they say size doesn't matter), it is not a fair fight.

A typical blog has limited caretakers, tight resources and oftentimes no budget. By contrast, a typical major-city TV news station usually has 20 or more reporters and photojournalists; a big-city newspaper is likely to boast at least 100 reporters, and usually many more. Such media mainstays have wads of cash, resources and political clout. When a governor is called on the proverbial carpet by an inquisitive reporter, who do you think is more likely to get the guy to return a phone call -- The Washington Post or a Boise-based blogger?

Eric Alterman weighs in on the issue in the March 14 issue of The Nation, taking aim at BuzzMachine's Jeff Jarvis, among the right-wing bloggers leading the charge against the MSM:

"Journalists aspire to standards of fairness, accuracy and research that are not generally observed by Jarvis's pajama-clad army. What's more, good journalism takes time and often money. At a recent meeting of bloggers and journalists at Harvard, Jarvis reportedly became so incensed when New York Times managing editor Jill Abramson asked him if he knew how much it cost to operate a bureau in Iraq, the moderator had to ask everybody to behave."

And yet that is not to minimize the power of the blogs. There's some crap out there, sure, but there is also much to admire: crisp writing, incisiveness, wit, irreverence, a grounding in Everyman reality. The smartest of the mainstream media recognize that the blogs are here to stay. Just as the recording industry took too long to fully appreciate that Napster and all its imitators had changed the rules, so, too, have some (witness the Tulsa World and its grousing over BatesLine) in the news media been slow on the uptake.

Certainly, recent events of the past few months attest to the obvious; bloggers can, and have, let loose with some mighty skull-crackin' slings and arrows. But they are weapons that, for the most part, obtain their power from the drawn bows of mainstream media. The vast majority of blogs don't have the resources or expertise to break stories and launch in-depth investigation; most build upon existing news with commentary and insight, thereby taking a story to the next level ... or, sometimes, criticizing the veracity of the story itself (just ask Dan Rather and Mary Mapes).

The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan eloquently makes the case for blogging:

"Someday in America the next big bad thing is going to happen, and lines are going to go down, and darkness is going to descend, and the instant communication we now enjoy is going to be compromised. People in one part of the country are going to wonder how people in another part are doing.

"Little by little lines are going to come up, and people are going to log on, and they're going to get the best, most comprehensive, and ultimately, just because it's there, most heartening information from . . . some lone blogger out there. And then another. They're going to do some big work down the road."

Speaking as an Oklahoman, I know one thing: If the farmer and the cowman can be friends, then surely the blogger and professional reporter can, too.


At 12:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What the hell is a cowman?

At 1:21 PM, Blogger Chase McInerney said...

Either a guy who raises cattle or a half-man, half-cow ... I don't remember

At 2:05 PM, Anonymous Lamb Fries said...

A guy who raises cattle is a Cattleman right-- haven't you been to that restaurant? I really like you half-man, half-cow crack.


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