Bloggers Vs. Journalists, Part 2,846
by Chris Bowers, Wed Dec 20, 2006 at 10:14:16 AM EST
I have never thought of journalism as the most accurate analogue to my work as a blogger. Perhaps there are some--if not most--bloggers who do view themselves in this fashion, but I do not. We do have the FEC media exemption, with which I agree, but overall I personally feel more like a political activist than a political journalist. Presenting accurate information in a journalistic fashion is part of that activism. It is this belief that makes me so frustrated when I encounter editorials such as Joseph Rago's in today's Wall Street Journal:
More success is met in purveying opinion and comment. Some critics reproach the blogs for the coarsening and increasing volatility of political life. Blogs, they say, tend to disinhibit. Maybe so. But politics weren't much rarefied when Andrew Jackson was president, either. The larger problem with blogs, it seems to me, is quality. Most of them are pretty awful. Many, even some with large followings, are downright appalling.
Every conceivable belief is on the scene, but the collective prose, by and large, is homogeneous: A tone of careless informality prevails; posts oscillate between the uselessly brief and the uselessly logorrheic; complexity and complication are eschewed; the humor is cringe-making, with irony present only in its conspicuous absence; arguments are solipsistic; writers traffic more in pronouncement than persuasion . . . In this editorial, Rago immediately assumes that the only useful way to understand bloggers is within the frame of journalism. Immediately after stating that bloggers are not very important, he makes his case through a direct comparison of blogging with journalism. Apparently, because bloggers do not engage in enough original reporting, at least compared to the amount conducted by journalists, the value of blogging is diminishing greatly. I have several quick responses to this:
- 1. If political blogging is less valuable than political journalism because blogging is dominated by opinion rather than reporting, then Rago must think journalism itself is becoming less valuable these days, even in establishment media outlets. This is because opinion journalism is taking up an ever larger percentage of the world of political journalism as a whole, even in establishment media outlets.
- 2. While most individual blogs do not engage in wide-ranging original reporting, many of the larger blogs do engage in just that. For example, MyDD's 2006 election coverage included some of the best information on polling, television advertising, and independent expenditures that could be found anywhere in the nation. We gave much more detailed information on the horserace status of every major campaign than any large media outlet. We also covered at least two campaigns, LA-02 and CT-Sen, as long-running, on the ground, beats. We paid visits to several other campaigns as well. Original reporting is taking place, and much of it is quite good.
- 3. Comparing the amount of original reporting any individual blog engages in to the amount of original reporting any major national news organization is unfair, considering the differences in budget and staff sizes. The blogosphere as a whole produces a wealth of original reporting. MyDD focus largely on campaigns, but a site like TPM Muckraker focuses on investigative reporting. We may cover a few campaigns of national interest with a regular beat, but local blogs around he nation are doing the same thing for local races around the nation.
At MyDD, we did all of our work on an annual budget that comes in way, way under $100,000, and with about three staff members. To expect us to individually match the amount of original reporting conducted by a large organization such as, say, The Washington Post, is absurd. However, if you were to aggregate all of the original reporting conducted by several major blogs, you would quite quickly reach an amount equal to or great than, The Washington Post, especially when it comes to the political realm. And our combined budgets are still quite a bit smaller.
I bet that is how Rago views the state of contemporary political journalism. In fact, I bet that is how a lot of the journalists who poo-poo the value of the political blogosphere view contemporary political journalism. After all, the attacks against the blogosphere for failing to meet journalistic standards do not really make sense on their own, since we are not pure journalists and should not be expected to adhere to the standards of another profession. An attack of that sort is similar to journalists arguing that lawyers should adhere to the journalistic code when conducting legal work. What does make sense would be journalists attacking their own profession for failing to meet its own standards, but instead of making those attacks directly, which would be self-defeating and potentially unprofessional according to that same code bloggers are accused of violating, instead use a similar, though certainly not identical, institution such as the blogosphere as a proxy for those attacks. Like the parent who attempts to vicariously live out his or her dreams through his or her children, if journalists cannot achieve their own ideals, for some strange reason they decide the blogosphere must achieve those ideals instead.
The blogosphere does not strive to become the new CNN or the new Wall Street Journal. We are not trying to replace journalists. We work in new media, and have new goals. Yes, we do quite a few things that journalists do, but we are not identical to journalists as a result. It may be presumptuous of me to accuse journalists of projecting the shortcomings of their own profession onto the blogosphere, but it is certainly equally as presumptuous for journalists to insert their own code of conduct onto the blogosphere when evaluating its worth. If I were to accuse the New York Times of not being as valuable as MyDD because it did not raise as much money for political candidates as we did in 2006, people would laugh at me. Yet for some reason it makes sense for journalists to undervalue the blogosphere because we do raise money for candidates.
They can impose their values on us, but we cannot do the same to them. Maybe it works that way because, to continue the analogy of the previous paragraph, the blogosphere is often viewed as playing the role of the child to the parent of established news organizations. In that case, the only defense I would offer for our violation of journalistic standards would arise from the old anti-drug commercial where, when confronted with where he learned how to use drugs, a child responds to his father by saying "you, alright! I learned it by watching you!" Parents who violate the rules of journalistic integrity will have children who do the same thing. Before you 'cuse me, take a look at yourself.