New York Times = Unaccountable, Bloggers = Accountable
by Matt Stoller, Tue Mar 07, 2006 at 08:55:23 AM EST
The public relations industry existed long before bloggers came along and they had reporters' phone numbers long before they had the email addresses of bloggers. Barely edited press releases have long been published, especially at smaller newspapers. I get press releases and information from all over the place all the time. Obviously disclosure is a nice idea if there are any financial relationships, a practice not always followed by our hallowed 4th estate, but if people want to devote their blogs to throwing up Wal Mart press releases they're free.
The main reason stories like this are even written is that contrary to popular opinnion the internet often provides a lot more transparency even when there are efforts to hide it. Astroturfing operations of various kinds through all media are nothing new, they're just usually harder to track. If Wal Mart pays 50 people to call talk radio all day and extol its virtues would anyone know?
Atrios is right. The structure of the internet makes this stuff much harder to hide. Blogs aren't transparent because bloggers are nice people, they are transparent because of Google, links, comments, and the low cost of entry. Journalistic ethics are often treated as if Google, links, comments, and blogger don't exist. They do. And it's about time journalists update their mindsets rather than screeching 'internet scary'.
Let's put it another way. If I found a major error in a Times story, I could email the public editor or Bill Keller, and it would be up to them whether to do anything. If I found that Atrios wrote something incorrect, I could put it on my blog, his blog, email him, email right-wingers or start a new blog in five minutes called 'AtriosWatch'. And he would notice, as would others.
The same is true in PR-land. So what if bloggers reiterate what Walmart wants them to say? It's not like you can only information on Walmart from right-wing bloggers. It's not like you can't disprove them. Why is the New York Times so afraid of the internet? Is it because if the Times actually made itself accountable to the public it purports to serve then Adam Nagourney-style 'Dems are divided according to Tom Vilsack' opinion journalism would be revealed as the shallow bloviating it is?
UPDATE: Andrea Batista Schlesinger has more.