In a few days,at an invite-only thinkfest, bloggerati and journalists will meet under the auspices of Harvard Law’s Berkman Center to discuss “Bloggimg. Journalism, and Credibility”. I have some friends, former colleagues, and aquaintances who will be attending, including Ed Cone.
In the run-up to this event, Ed blogs about the shoddy piece of journalism from the New York Times about blogs and Iraq.
What’s funny about the article is that it’s a lot like the blog posts that most journalists who deride blogs point to as evidence of how bad they are–a single original source, relying on third-party comments on another weblog, failure to do simple fact checks. By the end of the story, I was wondering, “OK, so what exactly was the point of this?” The reporter raises lots of doubts, address only a few, and ends it so lamely that she might as well have used the cliche: “Only one thing is certain–life goes on.”
It’s been at least a couple of years since anyone thought the New York Times was infallible. But you’d think that the experience of a public witch hunt would have chastened the editors at the Times and made them pay more attention to process.
Of course, if you thought that, you would be wrong. The NY Times, and the newspaper business in general, is an archaic institution that wraps itself in the glory of the First Amendment while continually selling off the good china of its reputation to pay the bills. In other words, general audience print journalism is the Wizard of Oz of modern media–pay no attention to the declining talent and energy behind the curtain.
Despite the advanced technology available to journalists of all walks today, many newsrooms have until recently totally escewed having actual Internet access in their newsrooms. Until recently, for example, only a select few reporters at the Baltimore Sun (based on my conversations with Sun reporters on the topic) actually had access to the Internet (or even their e-mail) at their desktop–reporters filed copy from terminals plugged into an archaic editing and layout system. At least they aren’t printing thermal “slicks” and doing manual paste-up of mechanicals any more.
And even now that they have the resourcves available, your average newspaper reporter doesn’t have a solid grasp of how to use them–or the time to use them properly.
But that’s hardly an excuse for not properly attributing sources. Even we in the technology news business know how important proper attribution is to the credibility of a journalist. People who cobble quotes together and manufacture what they can’t get firsthand quickly get a reputation for being hacks, and nobody will talk to them.
And reporters just seem to get twice as stupid when they write about bloggers, or practically anything about the Internet. They seem openly hostile to bloggers, and treat the Internet like something to be alternatingly feared and mocked.
There are several big lies that general audience journalists pull out whenever they want to go after blogs:
1) Objectivity. Because blogs are run by opinionated individuals and not by big, safe editorial operatons that screen stories carefully, they are inherently less objective than professional news media.
Bullshit. Print objectivity is a lie. All stories are written from a point of view–the hook for the story presents a particular point of view, and it’s usually that of the journalist (or the editor who rewrites the story), filtered through the experiences of the writer or editor. And an editorial process never helped Fox News, or stopped NYT and USA Today reporters from making up entire stories without getting caught.
2) Resources. Professional journalists lay claim to a wealth of informed sources that somehow make the quality of their information better than what individual bloggers can pull together.
Again, bullshit. Bloggers often have deep experience in the areas they write about, an Internet full of assignment editors and ready sources to help them build stories, and the ability to revise on the fly as new information becomes available. General assignment reporters often start with a press release; bloggers start more often with first-hand experience and established connections in their niche.
3) Credibility. This lie is built on the other two–because they are objective and have well-established resources, the traditional news media claims that they are more credible than independent sources like bloggers. Plus, they’ve been around longer. They’re institutions. You can trust them.
Total bullshit. The news media have been around a long time, and they’ve been screwing up for just as long. There was no “golden age” of print journalism any more than there was a “golden age” of strip-mining; since their formation, media organizations have been playing sleight-of-hand with the truth when it benefits them, just by the nature of their organizational culture. The people who have exposed greater truths were always iconoclasts within or outside of those organizations, and their bext work was often in the individual form. Take Upton Sinclair, for example.
If Upton Sinclair were alive today, he’d probably be a blogger, not a NY Times reporter.