Bloggers Vs. Journalists, Part 2,846

Back in 2004, most of the early salvos against blogging from the establishment media posited political bloggers as journalists, and then unfavorably compared political bloggers to a series of journalistic "standards" that most journalists actually fail to live up to themselves. To a limited extent, I can understand why political journalists would compare political bloggers to their own standards since we do, after all, focus on similar subject areas, frequently comment on the work of political journalists, find most of our work absorbed in writing, and because people have a tendency to try and understand something new through an older conceptual frame. The main gripe I have always had with analysis of this sort is that I failed to understand why bloggers, who despite certain similarities are not journalists, had to live up to the same standards as journalists. Should we start to expect everyone in politics to live up to some imaginary journalistic code? Should Capitol Hill staffers live up to this code, too? Should all advocacy organizations follow the journalistic creed? How about campaign volunteers and donors? Of course they should not. So, why is it that bloggers are expected to follow the journalistic code when other, non-journalists in the political world are not?

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:
The blogs are not as significant as their self-endeared curators would like to think. Journalism requires journalists, who are at least fitfully confronting the digital age. The bloggers, for their part, produce minimal reportage. Instead, they ride along with the MSM like remora fish on the bellies of sharks, picking at the scraps.

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 would go on further with defenses of this nature that point out how bloggers succeed as journalists, but there is an important moment in Rago's piece that I believe demonstrates the impetus for most of bloggers vs. journalists comparisons. The right now is partially a function of technology, which makes instantaneity possible, and also a function of a culture that valorizes the up-to-the-minute above all else. But there is no inherent virtue to instantaneity. Traditional daily reporting--the news--already rushes ahead at a pretty good clip, breakneck even, and suffers for it. On the Internet all this is accelerated. In this paragraph, Rago views the faults in political blogging to be an advanced form of the flaws in contemporary political journalism. It certainly makes one wonder if the other complaints he lodged toward blogging, including the lack of complexity, the over-emphasis on opinion, the solipsistic arguments, and a general pattern of both useless and humorlessness, are also simply advanced forms of the problems he views as already present within political journalism among established news outlets.

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.

Tags: Blogosphere, Media (all tags)



Re: Bloggers Vs. Journalists, Part 2,846 right.asp

by robliberal 2006-12-20 10:26AM | 0 recs
by youppan 2007-03-22 11:03PM | 0 recs
Re: Bloggers Vs. Journalists, Part 2,846

You don't exist.  LA LA LA LALALALALALALALA I'm not listening....

by Matt Stoller 2006-12-20 10:30AM | 0 recs
Re: Bloggers Vs. Journalists, Part 2,846

What did the late Vince Foster say about the WSJ? That their editorial writers lied without consequence?

by Alice Marshall 2006-12-20 10:34AM | 0 recs
Re: Bloggers Vs. Journalists, Part 2,846

Well, yes.  It's childish reaction by an editorialist for a conservative publication to the fact that a rival source of commentary has contributed to a shift of power away from his favored point of view in Washington.  What blogs do is what Rabo does--it's commentary, and what's more, it's more free market than what he does.  He's used to major publications offering the only widely disseminated editorials, and therefore, those fortunate enough to gain employment with those periodicals are those who get to express their views.  The Internet is much like the invention of the printing press; it's made every man and woman a distributor of commentary, and those who are best at it and invest the most in resources will gain the largest audiences, and therefore propagate their enterprises by attracting further investment in the form of advertising.  Sure, that means a lot more "ill-informed" opinions are being presented, on all sides of the political spectrum; that's because outlets for opinion are no longer controlled by a more limited selection of media.  Dude is saying they should be more carefully controlled, I guess.  He probably would have thrown eggs and tomatoes at John Peter Zenger, too.

by gjdodger 2006-12-20 10:40AM | 0 recs
What he does, but done better

What blogs do is what Rabo does--it's commentary, and what's more, it's more free market than what he does.

There is one aspect to the political blogosphere that just leaves traditional opinion writing in the dust, and that is the hyperlink.  You can't misrepresent what other people have said when making and argument, because if you don't link to it, the claim isn't credible, and if you do, then your misrepresentation is exposed.

The left blogosphere is much more concerned about accuracy than is the traditional punditocracy. Corrections are pointed out by readers and made as a matter of course.

And, as you say, if corrections are not made and links not mischaracterized, the blog in question loses readers.  I'm stuck with David Brooks and Maureen Dowd in my paper. But if Glenn Greenwald stops backing up his points with the words of the people he is writing about, I can go read Anonymous Liberal's blog instead.  And others will leave as well.

by jayackroyd 2006-12-20 03:00PM | 0 recs
Re: Bloggers Vs. Journalists, Part 2,846

After having read Rago's nonsense, I can understand why Rago hyperventilates loudly and without any usefulness.

When I come over to and post a comment or two, or even write a diary, I am considered a blogger.  And in this capacity, I have the opportunity move a person's opinion on an issue or of an Elected Official, and thus, encouraging a vote that prior to, was unavailable to me.  And that, for me, it the greatness of the internet, and to wit, specificaly a political blog.  In contrast, Rago cannot do that with his current gig.  Thus, journalistic standard versus political activism comes into play and thusly, the fountain of Rago's "rage".

Now, I am the primary writer of the Cactus Juice Commentaries over at the Chicano Veterans Organization, and yet, I am also a small business owner.  Consequently, I write from the standpoint of my prior and ongoing political experiences that the Wall Street Journal would love to access, but will not do so for purely business reasons.  But that is their loss given that there are over three million of us as Chicanos who have worn our nation's uniform and see the political world from the standpoint of the Privates, the Corporals, and the Sergeants.

Consequently, we have the votes in very large numbers, vote intelligently, and despite our wariness for and weariness for the usual crappola that passes for conventional wisdom, the Ragos in America will continue to exist and do so quite successfully, but will never take the time to write an article about our "littlest citizens", the children born in the USA and have returned to the nations of orgin of their undocument immigrant parents.  Thus, no one knows how many of our "littlest citizens" are residing outside the United States nor whether they have three squares a day; go to bed hungry; have access to decent health care; a school room with all the necessary tools for learning, and etcetera. Sadly, the Ragos of America will never touch such a taboo subject. Furthermore, they don't know how and equally important, don't want to learn.

In any event, taking the Ragos of America seriously, is soemwhat akin to being ironic, and verging on an "insiders" joke.

by Jaango 2006-12-20 12:34PM | 0 recs
George Will the WSJ, the Nation and blogger ethics

His position is ridiculous. George Will did debate prep for Reagan and kept his column.  The WSJ editorial page is as politically as any blogger.  The Nation engages in political activism.

It's ridiculous to say that bloggers can't write accurate stories about, say, polling results, and also be politically active.

The notion that David Brooks is some kind of centrist arbiter, and not part of the Wurlitzer is just flat stupid.

They're afraid.  Harris and VandeHei are gonna find out that all they had was the byline--that they're gonna be unable to compete in a free marketplace.

So, afraid they use their pulpits before they lose their power.

by jayackroyd 2006-12-20 03:07PM | 0 recs

What struck me most about Rago's piece was the sophomoric writing style - the overuse of "it", the thesaurus-thumbing overuse of dollar words for penny ideas - reflecting Rago's own misidentified "decay" and the general "Punditdaemmerung" of so much of traditional media due to its own weaknesses of economics and accountability.  

I wrote on similar themes on my own blog last week when I thanked Time Magazine for naming me Person of the Year for being middle class, educated and for using the Internet, but your piece here and your similar piece on press stenographers are masterpieces in their simplicity and clarity.

How ironic that the American bastion of institutional capitalism is sh soiling itself in the face of upstart competition.  They never like the free market as much as they say they do, do they?

by Bruce Godfrey 2006-12-20 01:27PM | 0 recs

I tried to read the Rago piece, but it was so derivative, repetitive and poorly written, that I just couldn't get through it.

But a few salient (I hope) comments are in order, somewhat at odds with points Chris makes, although with the same end in mind:

(1) Chris says:

Overall I personally feel more like a political activist than a political journalist
I became a political journalist as an expression of my political activism.  I see no contradiction between the two.  While American journalism adopted a non-partisan model roughly 100 years ago, that was for primarily commercial purposes, having nothing to do with any sort of ethical superiority.

Indeed, one who is a strong advocate as a journalist has a very strong motive to tell the truth--stronger in many ways than someone who utterly nuetral (if such a horse ever existed).  The reason is simple: a victory won on lies is very unlikely to last, at least without requiring more and more lies (Iraq, anyone?) which only make matters worse and worse and worse as the day of reconing is marginally postponed.

I've had rather a rough time around here of late, because I've repeatedly brought up unpleasant truths about Barack Obama.  This is a direct function of my sense of what it means to be a political journalist.  I wish to hell there weren't all these gaping flaws and contradictions staring me right in the face.  I would just love it if Obama were as neat and flawless as his fans take him to be.  I really would.  But it's my job to be equally critical of friend and foe alike, when it comes to telling the truth about what they are doing.  Because I see truth as the sine qua non for lasting progressive victory.

Hence, there is no conflict between having a POV and having a commitment to truth. None whatsoever.

(2) The notion that journalists reports and blogs do not is utter lunacy.

As I.F. Stone demonstated long, long ago, some of the most astonishing and important information is published by the government and simply ignored.  Any person at all can read government documents and pass on what they have found, and this is no different from what the media does--except, of course, that is far more direct, undiluted and unpolluted with ass-covering spin.

Furthermore, in this day and age, there are thousands of researchers and advocacy organizations producing newsworthy information that the corporate media simply ignores.  The recognition and re-transmission of this information is considered a legitimate journalistic function when journalists do it.  It is just as much a journalistic function when anyone else does it--even if they do it on a blog.  And if they go further and put it into some kind of context, then it generally goes quite a bit further in the direction of good journalistic practice than most journalists go.

The notion that blogs are dependent on journalists to give them fodder is, of course, true to a certain extent--although its usually fodder for criticism, not enlightment.  But the notion that blogs would have nothing reality-based to work off of without journalists is utterly absurd.  We don't have to read anyone's story about a poll.  We can analyze the poll for ourselves.  We don't have to ready anyone's coverage of a press conference when a transcript is posted.  Nor do we have to depend on media accounts to analyze campaign fundraising when it, too, is posted online, or campaign outcomes, when those, too are posted online.

But more to the point, there UN Reports the corporate media will never discuss.  There are economic analyses--showing that Social Security is not in crisis, for example--that they will positively shun.  There was Glen Rangwala's instant analysis of Colin Powell's UN Security Council Speech on Iraq's WMDs, posted online, which had far, far more truth in it than the corporate media has had, even at this late date.

And so, let us hear no more about how the media does a superior job of reporting the basic facts.  They do a better job of reporting the convenient facts.  Not the basic ones.

(3) The problem with blogs is not a lack of reporting.  It's a lack of editing. Exhibit #1 is DKos.  There's an incredible amount of first-hand reporting posted on Dkos in your average week.

The problem with it, from a journalistic POV, is twofold:

(A) Internally, within stories: The lack of presentation from a traditional journalistic perspective, using traditional journalistic forms.  Instead, people tend to use first-person storytelling forms.  The reasons for this are mutiplem, but I'll cite just two: a lack of journalistic training, on the one hand, and the simple fact that storytelling is inherently more personal, direct, and engaging, OTOH.  In short, it's a choice, not an echo. (Do you hear an echo in here?)

(B) Externally, in the presentation of stories: The lack of a well-structured default presentation, so that stories can easily be followed as they unfold, and related to other unfolding stories, as well as to deeper background stories.  This is a real, ongoing problem for the blogosphere as a whole, for subsectors, such as the universe of all law-related blogs, and for megasites such as DKos.  Whether anyone will ever do anything about this remains to be seen.  If anyone ever does anything about it, then the blogosphere may really be in a position to fully challenge traditional jouranlism on its basic reporting home turf, and not just in the real of opinion and analysis, where it is alreay far superior to anything in the daily press.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-12-20 03:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Bloggers Vs. Journalists, Part 2,846

I don't now my local paper constantly sources bloggers. I've been sourced like 9 times already as well as several other blogs in my area. I think we are actually a supplement for their laziness

by orin76 2006-12-20 06:16PM | 0 recs


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