Monday, January 31, 2005

Blog v. MSM Smackdown

Editor and Publisher has this article regarding an ongoing feud between the bloggers at Powerline and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Relevant quotes:

If you don't believe that bloggers are giving newspapers a headache, talk to Nick Coleman. A veteran newspaper columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Coleman is in the middle of an old-fashioned feud with one of the leading conservative Web logs in the country.

So far, his battle with — Time magazine's "blog of the year" — has sparked an anger-spewing column by Coleman, an ombudsman's clarification, and a threat by a leading bank to pull advertising from the newspaper. . . .

So is this the future of blog-newspaper relations in 2005 and beyond? According to Coleman, yes, and not in a good way. He says traditional news outlets need to keep tabs on the blogs and shoot back when necessary. "Editors and writers in mainstream media are very naive," he says. "Readership and power of the blogs is increasing." He also claims that the blogs are dangerous because they are not under the same ethical restrictions as mainstream media and seek to stay on the attack, facts be damned. He contends "the mainstream media is under assault."

But Powerline's Hinderaker argues that blogs are actually more accountable because they receive immediate reaction from readers and can be criticized by other blogs, many of which are read by the same people. "Mainstream media doesn't have the checks and balances you have on a blog," he says. "If a blogger makes a mistake, the e-mail is packed with responses and other bloggers jump on it. Newspapers don't have the same relationship with their readers."

Johnson, his colleague, agrees, adding that the growing blog power is good for the news consumer. "I think we have had a very productive interaction with mainstream media and they are paying attention," he says. "I think Nick Coleman's attitude reflects more on him than us."

For ombud Parry, both sides should be warned to be careful dealing with the effects of blog-newsprint battles. "I have yet to find anywhere in the mainstream media anyone who really has a handle on bloggers," she asserts. "We are dealing with a relatively new phenomenon."

Greenman points out an article with an opposing view:this article in Slate entitled "Blog Overkill - the danger of hyping a good thing into the ground." Relevant quotes:

"Memories of the video guerrillas percolated to my forebrain last Friday while I attended the "Blogging, Journalism, and Credibility" conference at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Many of the speakers, such as New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen and tech wizard/Ur blogger Dave Winer, echoed Shamberg's fervor as they testified to the socially transformative power of blogs. A blogswarm of amateurs, they proclaimed, is breaking the professionals' hold on the press. There's a major power shift going on, Rosen stated, tilting toward users and away from the established media.

In language only slightly less fervent than Shamberg's, conference participants declared blogs the destroyers of mainstream media. (See this page and this page for a real-time transcription of the conference.) Others prescribed blogs as the medicine the newspaper industry should take to reclaim its lost readers: Publishers should support reader blogs and encourage their reporters to blog in addition to writing stories. Podcasts would undermine the radio network empires. "Open source" journalism, in which readers and bloggers help set the news agenda for newspapers, was promoted as a tonic for what ails the press. Reporters were encouraged to regain the lost trust of readers by blogging drafts of their stories, their notes, and even their taped interviews so other bloggers could dissect and analyze them for fairness. . . .

With the exception of the "metro" section reporter covering a 12-car pile-up on the freeway, I think most practicing journalists today are as Webby as any blogger you care to name. Journalists have had access to broadband connections for longer than most civilians, and nearly every story they tackle begins with a Web dump of essential information from Google or a proprietary database such as Nexis or Factiva. They conduct interviews via e-mail, download official documents from .gov sites, check facts, and monitor the competition—including blogs—the whole while. A few even store as a "favorite" the URL from Technorati that takes them directly to what the blogs are saying about them (here's mine) and talk back. When every story starts on the Web, and every story can be stripped to its digital bits and pumped through wires and over the air, we're all Web journalists.

The premature triumphalism of some bloggers indicates that they haven't paid attention to how Webified journalists have become. They also ignore media history. New media technologies almost never replace old media technologies, they merely force old technologies to adapt and find new ways to connect with their audiences. Radio killed the "special edition," but newspapers survived. When television dethroned radio as the hearthside infobox and cratered the Hollywood box office, radio became a mobile medium, and Hollywood devoted itself to spectaculars that the tiny TV set couldn't adequately display. The competitive spiral has continued, with cable TV, VCRs and DVDs, satellite TV and radio broadcasters, and now Internet broadcasters entering the fray. The only extinct mass medium that I can think of is the movie house newsreel."

As usual, neither the "blogs are just a blip on the radar" nor the "blogs are a revolution that will destroy MSM" viewpoints ring true to me. Blogs will change media, and it is obvious to me that many people in the mainstream press aren't fond of the idea that 'guys in pajamas', no matter how well-educated, can effectively criticize the press. But change does not equal destruction, only mutation. C'mon guys. There's plenty of room on the big soapbox for everybody.

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