The unspoken media war

There’s a lot of anger out there among establishment media types about the blogosphere, and it’s a great concern to me. I mean, I don’t care what people think about bloggers, but the extent to which nasty name-calling contributes to a kind of “truth-blindness” about the future of media does not bode well for mainstream news people, many of whom are my friends.

MSMers (blogging acronym for Main Stream Media) have never had warm fuzzies for bloggers. The issues have been credentials, checks and balances, and condescension. I’ve written about the roots of this many times here and argue that the news business is a trade, not the “profession” envisioned by Walter Lippmann. Bloggers are seen as amateurs and wannabes, but the RatherGate/MemoGate/CBSGate incident has put bloggers on the front page, and the resentments are getting ugly.

First, there was the reference by a former CBS News executive that bloggers were just people “in pajamas.” The blogosphere had fun with that one for awhile, considering the comment to be a badge of honor.

Last week, MSNBC/Newsweek columnist Steven Levy called bloggers “a nation of ankle biters,” which has prompted another round of shots from the blogosphere. Being the humorous types that bloggers are, links like this one are popping up. It leads to doggies wearing pajamas, a double reference to the condescension.

Glenn Reynolds felt he was misquoted in the article, adding:

“…as is so often the case with Big Media folks — he came in to the interview with his storyline predetermined, and he put things into that mold whether they fit or not. (It also, as always, makes me wonder where else this is happening without my noticing it.)

And, sadly, that — together with the condescending notion that bloggers are “biting the ankles” of their betters — says it all about what’s wrong with Big Media today. Levy’s disappointed in the blogosphere. But I’m disappointed in Levy, and much of his profession.”

But the most unkind comments of all came this week when Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman wrote:
“Do bloggers have the credentials of real journalists? No. Bloggers are hobby hacks, the Internet version of the sad loners who used to listen to police radios in their bachelor apartments and think they were involved in the world.

Bloggers don’t know about anything that happened before they sat down to share their every thought with the moon. Like graffiti artists, they tag the public square — without editors, correction policies or community standards. And so their tripe is often as vicious as it is vacuous.

…Most bloggers are not fit to carry a reporter’s notebook.”

Perhaps this escalating acrimony is healthy. After all, you can’t deal with issues unless they’re on the table, and that’s what’s happening here. While part of me believes this, I feel very sorry for the MSMers who share this attitude and continue to fight for the illusion of self-importance. They will be the ultimate losers here, for I believe in people and in the power of citizen journalism to make a difference. And as these folks cling to a crumbling tower, they’re unable to see the inevitable irrelevance of their institution coming.

And lest you think this only applies to the ivory tower known as “the press,” think again. While television stations and local newspapers are busy protecting their (shrinking) turf, new technologies keep coming down the pike that enable everyday people to do more and more. When these ankle-biting, hobby hacks in their pajamas turn to radio and television, everybody in town will be affected.

The cluetrain is leaving the station. Are you onboard?


  1. It seems to me, having watched this debate from the audience seats, that there are 2 things that occur in the reporting of the world, either by “journalists” or “bloggers”: firstly, there are the facts; secondly, there is opinion.

    The MSMers you quote are hanging onto the belief that only journalists can report the facts. Rathergate et al has shown that bloggers can sometimes do as good a job, or better.

    However, there is clearly a “selection” process in deciding which bloggers to read and trust to have the basic facts right, right? The point here is that we, the audience, can make up our own minds on Terry Heaton or Dan Rather without the need for a MSM brand or J School credentials.

    The second issue — opinion — is the one which, from my seat, is muddying the waters.

    MSMers seem reluctant to recognize that much of modern “journalism” is opinion, more than fact. We’ve been living with this for at least 2 decades. How stupid do they think we are?

    Bloggers, entitled by all means to share their opinion, are at least open about it. But, hey, guys and gals, don’t let a little victory like Rathergate go to your heads. I, the audience of one, find you as vaccuous as charged for the most part.

    Where is the alternative? The facts and just the facts, ma’am? Can I have the facts without a discourse on your meal with friends in a foreign city? Bloggers, be honest: your a little club of friends no more or less than the journalists.

    Is this not what I, the audience, have been screaming all this time? Give me the facts and I’ll form my own opinion, and discuss it with my own friends.

  2. Matt C. Wilson says

    Well said Hannah. It seems to me that my local news broadcast is a homogenized mix of fact, cheezy eye-grabber title graphics, self-celebratory gusto, glitzy watch-and-win promotions, and extremely powerful, cutting-edge weather forecasting every 5 minutes. So yeah, I’m certainly willing to cut back to blogs, where at least it’s just the facts and the gusto.

    I think the trend is going to be towards aggregation as a means of noise cancellation. You’re not going to separate the fact completely from the interpretations of the source. But with Google News, you can at least multiply the sources and let some error-correction in to the signal.

    I also think that as we get further along into the internet age, services will emerge tailored to the wants of fact-hungry surfers out there. As you said, you’d rather have the facts and form your own opinions. Perhaps the news of the future will simply be a list of links to the latest local information, with a discussion board for the significance of the findings.

    There might already be a niche out there for a “statistical information processing” site that would present figures and graph trends on crime, weather, politics, etc. The internet’s a big place. Maybe we just haven’t found it yet.

  3. Matt, I agree.

    Yes, I do use aggragation to cut the noise factor. I also try a few feeds for a while then decide which one or two seem the most reliable. Facts plus discussion board? Bring it on, man! What a fabulous idea!

    And isn’t this the frightening part? The lack of “business model” is because there is no market for opinions. Not only is marketing to the masses dead, so too is declamation to the masses.

  4. Well, since bloggers aren’t fit to carry his notebook, I would imagine that ordinary people probably aren’t fit to watch/read/hear his coverage. He should resign and go to the mountaintop to commune with God and others, if there are in fact any, who are fit to deal with the likes of him. Sheeeeeesh.

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