Some Friday News Musings (Updates)

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(This post is a bit long, but I think this needs to be said.)

In yesterday’s Philadelphia Daily News, columnist Stu Bykofsky theorized about the future of newspapers and proposed the rather ridiculous idea of charging subscribers $5 a month to read philly.com content (in response to a grilling the Inquirer apparently received from Philadelphia Magazine; I didn’t read the magazine article, which is OK because I’m not commenting on that, only what Bykofsky said in response).

And as dumb as that is, a similar line of thought about charging for content was echoed here.

Oh, and “Byko” also said that the next time Google decides to “pick up” (re: steal, to Byko’s way of thinking) philly.com content, Google should be sued for a billion dollars.

Yes, he really said that, people.

You see, cousins, Byko still believes that news professionals such as he should be the sole gatekeepers of content (this is a variation, by the way, on the argument that former Inquirer editor Chris Satullo advocated, that bloggers should work to fill in reporting gaps for budgetary reasons when it comes to covering zoning hearings or city council/county/township management board meetings and the like because the paper didn’t have the “bandwidth” or budget to do it themselves; some bloggers are really good at that stuff I’ll admit, but I always found that argument by Satullo overly simplistic, to say nothing of disingenuous).

Or, as Byko puts it…

Bloggers can’t replace newspapers.

The million bloggers comment mostly on what was revealed by resource-rich newspapers. No matter how many eyeballs they attract, blogs rarely “break through” because they are so many and so scattered. They lack newspapers’ broad-based public square, where the masses assemble. They also lack the public megaphone and spotlight, which may be the print press’ most important weapons.

I’m not arguing that; I readily admit that, were I unable to access news content to support what I argue in my posts, about 2/3rds of what I typically write would disappear.

But Byko assumes here that news professionals are, in each case, the sole originators of news stories. I don’t have any numbers to verify how many stories are initiated from an editor or some informal contact providing a tip, or research on the part of a reporter. However, I also don’t know how many news stories are originated from someone working in a public relations capacity of one type or another who is looking to “leak” information to a reporter who happens to be the fortunate recipient of something that ultimately leads to a story or opinion column.

Simply stated, yeah, I’ll buy the argument that most reporters generate stories through hard work. But sometimes stories come their way through luck, and for Byko to more or less imply that the former is always the case is creating an undeserved mythology as far as I’m concerned.

And Byko also says that bloggers rarely “break through” because they are “scattered”; if by that he means that there are so many of us doing our thing that we don’t get the hit count of someone established or recognized by traditional news sources, then I’ll give him that also. But I’m not sure what that has to do with generating good content.

He continues…

Was it a blogger who turned a spotlight, and publicly shamed, the Postal Service (in Philadelphia) for dumping mail? No, that was the Daily News. Did a blogger have the resources in time, talent and staff to drag DHS onto the front pages and into the grand-jury room? No, that was the Inquirer. Every day newspapers run stories that would not otherwise be told.

Was it the New York Times, Washington Post or Inquirer who provided the ground-breaking coverage in the “Scooter” Libby trial that led to his conviction on charges of obstructing a criminal investigation? No, Byko – that was firedoglake, Glenn Greenwald, and a contingent of “A” listers who doggedly pursued the story while individuals such as Bob Woodward decried their efforts (of course, Woodward was hardly without blemish himself on that story, as noted here).

However, this is where Byko really goes “off the deep end”…

Do all (any?) bloggers have the training or the inclination to post only what is verifiable? Working for a newspaper means you have been vetted by virtue of education or experience, and you hew to ethical norms of accuracy, honesty and objectivity. Do we always succeed? No. But almost all of us make an honest effort, and we have angels on our shoulders (called editors) to ensure that we do.

That’s why I’ll trust the Associated Press’ reporting of President Obama’s recovery plan over anything I’ll read at DailyKos.com or TownHall.com.

I don’t know if Byko has ever read any posts at townhall.com or not (they can speak for themselves and try to justify their musings if they want; I only go there when I’m desperate for parody content that I can rip apart from time to time), but those last two paragraphs tell me that he doesn’t have a clue as to what is posted at The Daily Kos.

Yes, there are a lot of meandering posts where someone more or less theorizes about his or her view of things without verification (the blogger Hunter does that from time to time, for example, but I find his – ? – prose enjoyable to read, and when I do my own research on his topics, I just about always find that he – ? – is spot-on). However, that’s why the site has its “rec list” and prioritizes posts as warranted by their quality, as well as how pertinent they are to ongoing news events.

You want to read about the workings of Congress? I don’t know of anyone with more expertise than TDK blogger Kagro X. How about science? Has Byko ever read one of DarkSyde’s posts?

Also, does Byko have any idea how closely Eschaton and Calculated Risk, among other notable blogs, have been following the meltdown of our financial markets and the response of our government, for good or ill?

And for overall political analysis, I don’t know anybody who “nails it” with the frequency of Digby at Hullabaloo (and I’ve often found sites such as Open Left, Talk Left and Liberal Oasis to possess interesting content, and that’s not even taking into account the legion of “B” list sites, if you will, like Take It Personally and The Existentialist Cowboy that always have something interesting to say also).

Also, as long as I’m commenting on the “crossover” between established journalists and bloggers, allow me to compliment the Bucks County Courier Times for publishing this excellent analysis of Bernard Goldberg’s hack-tacular new book last Saturday; when the Courier Times is further ahead of the curve than the Inky when it comes to interesting editorial content…well, that says something, doesn’t it?

Continuing…

Is it arrogant to think that members of the Mainstream Media are a tad more impartial and professional than self-appointed “citizen journalists”?

If they’re all the same to you, I’m a “citizen dentist.” Call me. I can get that molar out fast.

Actually, Byko, I hope you’re an expert at removing feet instead of teeth from one’s mouth, since you need to “heal thyself” first.

As far as I’m concerned, here’s the deal; You and your “dead tree” pals need us about as much as we need you, maybe more. We need you because operations such as the Inquirer and Daily News contain salaried news professionals who often do legitimately good work upon which we can comment given our particular viewpoint (and, despite what Byko claims, I see corroboration of those commentaries in blogs more often than not).

And you need us because we’re slowly taking away your share of the market (some bloggers faster than others, I readily admit), and, if nothing else, you need to learn from us about how to reach an audience that consumes news in ways that few imagined months or years ago.

To me, there is no reason why, when I navigate to philly.com or any traditional (MSM, if you must) news sources, I should not be able to link to Eschaton, Glenn Greenwald at Salon, FDL, The Daily Kos, Booman Tribune, Hullabaloo, The Huffington Post, or other “A” listers from the portal page instead of from a favored links list by a notable commentator or reporter at that site such as Dick Polman or Will Bunch (to keep with the philly.com example). And I don’t know if Byko has noticed or not, but if you watch someone like, say, Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, he will interview reporter Howard Fineman of Newsweek or WaPo columnist E.J. Dionne (as he did last night), but he will also interview Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com or Ezra Klein of The American Prospect (and last I checked, Olbermann’s ratings among the demographics that truly matter to advertisers were pretty good – trailing Fox, but closing, and leaving CNN in the dust), as well as other bloggers and online writers.

Oh, but the problem is that all of this leads to the inevitable schism of linking to “liberal” versus “conservative” content, doesn’t it? Heaven forbid that a newspaper owned by Brian Tierney of Philadelphia Media Holdings L.L.C. should “stain” itself with an association with some foul-mouthed hippie bloggers, right?

Well, guess what, Byko (and Tierney, by extension)? How about letting the marketplace decide, huh? Put up some rotating links from philly.com to the blogs I noted above along with, say, National Review Online, Red State, Power Line, Little Green Footballs, Captain’s Quarters or whatever (not an authority on the “winger” sites, I readily admit) and see what happens to your site’s “hit” count.

I hope that you aren’t afraid of what will likely be the greater scrutinizing of everyone’s content from discriminating news consumers who would welcome such a development, though I’m sure that Byko, established “citizen dentist” that he is, would have nothing to fear, considering the sterling, Pulitzer-quality work he generates in machine-like fashion (like, uh, this?).

This will “lift all boats” better than any cockamamie scheme to extort payment for content. And everyone would be much better informed for the bargain.

And let’s not forget that we have arrived at this state because traditional journalism, particularly given the media mergers of the last decade or so (and the subsequent consolidation of the corporate voice above all others that followed) has collectively failed in its duty to inform and educate us by refusing to separate fact from fallacy, truth from tirades, and substance from spin during some of the most calamitous times that our country has ever seen.

And were that not true, I can most definitely tell you that this blog would not exist.

Update 3/21/09: “Physician, heal thyself,” as it were (here).

Update 4/7/09: Eric Schmidt echoes what I’m trying to say here.

Update 4/9/09: Yep, this sounds like the last word to me.

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