Saturday, March 12, 2005

 

Delegitimizing bloggers

The day that I packed my bags and left the news media world, it seemed like I had only unpacked my bags a day earlier. Despite the fact that close to six long, hard years had gone by, every day in news media seemed like a week, as breaking stories seemed to sprout legs and run off in to the wild blue yonder as soon as they hit the wire. I always considered it to be quite an amazing feat, because a good writer knew what parts of a story were important, and how to concisely inform people of what's going on without dragging them through the same mud they were forced to land face-first in when digging up the facts. Producers, editors, writers, and wire service editors in the news media field were, once upon a time, dealt with on the same level [of respect] as the police detectives they quoted, and given copper badges with the title of "PRESS" to wear when covering events that were unfolding. The badge, as with any badge worn by a peace officer, agent, or investigator, was a sign of time-served, and the responsibility that came with wearing it showed that the journalist gave the same respect that he in turn received by writing a fair and accurate description of what was going on in the world.

It wasn't uncommon for members of the press to attend high-level informational gatherings organized by the President and his cabinet, as the reporters would actually report, and ask meaningful questions that weren't mean to demonize or demoralize the administration, but to spread the words and information that needed to be conveyed. Opinions were left to the opinion pages, most of which were stuck in the back of the newspaper, written by those who were looking to make a few extra dollars in-between the publishing of their next book in order to make rent for that month.

Journalism, as a whole, has seen the greatest changes out of any industry that comes to mind, as the electronic age has allowed for information to be streamed at the speed of light. At the same time, anyone can publish on the internet, which decreased the validity of information being offered. The
Los Angeles Times, which has earned the title of a left-wing attack machine, comes to mind when thinking of outlets that run a high probability of releasing articles that are a mix of fact and opinion. With writers such as Barbara Demick, who complied the pro-North Korea piece, "North Korea, Without the Rancor," give a horrible name to the Times, who stays middle-of-the-road, only to be thrown to the far-left by articles such as that, and agenda-driven journalists such as Demick.

The mixture of fact and opinion is where mainstream journalism has taken a jump off the deep end. One has to wonder how wonderful universities such as
Columbia turn out sub-par journalists who believe front page stories should be written from the point of view of having an axe to grind, instead of reporting the facts and allowing the reader to decide for themselves. But at the same time, looking to professors such as the University of Colorado/Boulder's Ward Churchill, who spend more time promoting an anti-American message and siding with Al Qaeda than teaching students, it's easy to see how one might graduate jaded and full of both hate and rage.

This collective set of reasons, as well as the monstrative nature of being able to post anything on the internet and claim it to be factual, has allowed bloggers to emerge as the sole fact-finders in a world ruled by opinion and feeling, disguised as truth and fact. The bloggers of today are an ode to the journalists of yester-year, in which the paycheck, nor the fame, were the deciding factors, but the search for truth, and the desire to report actual events take presedence over anything else. In the same way that
John Peter Zenger had to fight for his rights to report what he saw, using the New York Gazette as his outlet in 1735, bloggers face a challenge today as not being covered by the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of the press, as well as the guarantee that journalists will be able to hold their sources confidential. On March 3rd, a California judge passed down a decision that made heads spin in both the legal world, and the news media world.
A California judge issued a preliminary ruling on Mar. 3 that three bloggers who published leaked information about an unreleased Apple (NasdaqNM:AAPL - News) product must divulge their confidential sources. If the ruling holds, it will set a precedent certain to reverberate through the blogosphere because this means under the law bloggers aren't considered journalists.
While this ruling still has the ability to be overturned, and a written opinion has not been passed down, decisions such as this one make it painfully apparent that bloggers, as a whole, are not viewed by key decision makers as real journalists, despite the fact that they have been the breaking point for a majority of the news stories for the past 24 months, and acted as both campaign promotional tools as well as daily commentary for the presidential campaigns of 2004. That's not to say that it cannot be changed, and considering the fact that most newspapers get more viewers on their websites, and not from printed deliveries, it's not hard to run a parallel and see that blogs provide the exact same service, and that any blogger can review and report on a Reuters or AP Wire story just as well as the New York Times.

This leaves us with the notion that if blogs are to be taken seriously, the blogging community has to establish an unwritten set of rules to distinguish the serious blogs that report news, from the personal blogs that allow 11th graders to talk about their day in school. While newspapers worldwide are printed on gray paper, or fold into quarters on shiny UV-coated paper like The Weekly Standard and the Los Angeles Business Journal, blogs are designed based on the mood and feelings of the writer. But at the same time, bloggers around the world, regardless of political views, favorite sports teams, language, or monetary resources, will have to band together to promote the positive use of blogs as legitimate news sources instead of online hit pieces.

Once bloggers, and the blogs themselves, are recognized as more than guys in PJ's getting lucky by turning out news stories before the mainstream outlets, and it's realized that they are the electronic version of reporters in the field submitting wire stories, the second generation of journalism will finally show their forefathers who's boss.

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