Are bloggers a new “layer” of media?

Although he probably doesn’t realize it, Peter Johnson raises the issue of bloggers as a new “layer” of media in a USAToday column about how the blogosphere is bringing something new to the Supreme Court Justice selection process. It’s an interesting read and notes that the Web was in its infancy the last time a new high court judge was named (1994).

Gone are the days when it would usually take disparaging information from an insider to derail a judge’s nomination.

“It used to be catch as catch can,” says Fordham University communications professor Paul Levinson. “But now with the Internet, we’re in an environment where all the world’s knowledge is available and can be brought to bear on an appointment. It democratizes the appointment process and brings the maximum number of human minds into the process.”

I view that as a good thing.

But much of the article is about the anticipated slime and cheap shots that partisan bloggers will sling, and included is the meme that the real press will have the job of winnowing all the arguments to help everybody make sense of it.

Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism says that it will be up to “traditional media with the largest resources to knock down bad stuff that the bloggers put out” about whomever Bush nominates.
This is new, I think, and it says plenty. For one, it’s an acknowledgement that the blogosphere will be doing much of the ground level reporting on the nominee. Two, it implies that this will be an arena for a slugfest of ideas and beliefs, something that used to be the sole purview of the MSM. Three, it puts bloggers and the blogosphere in a journalistic “layer,” somewhere between the traditional press and the stage where the action is taking place.

This idea bears examination, because it attempts to frame “roles” for both the blogosphere and the MSM — a suggestion that “you have your job, and I have mine.” As logical as this may seem to some, I think it’s suicide for the traditional press, for it clings to the gatekeeper pedestal that is at the root of everything that’s wrong with contemporary “professional” journalism — the same pedestal that helped create the energy behind the blogosphere in the first place. And, in so doing, I think it’s a de facto admission that the blogosphere is doing much of the real work of the press in our culture.

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