Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sometimes the Globe and Mail is so irrelevant

Canadian Cynic puts Russell Smith in his place with a short, succinct one-liner. Smith, writing in the Globe and Mail in which he declares that bloggers demean the discourse and lower the tone of public debate. Smith's column is a perfect example of punditry without the research. And while he is quick to dismiss blogs as cranky and scornful of the MSM (traditional media is the definition here), he demonstrates that he knows little of the impact blogs have made and the service many of them actually perform.

We know that blogs have the advantage of speed: News and rumours (more likely the latter) can circulate the globe on the Internet three times before our magazine or news hour rolls around. We have heard that they can break important stories.
Indeed. Let me clarify that for Smith. Sometimes blogs do break important stories. For example, AmericaBlog in the US broke the story of Jeff Gannon, the male-hooker-turned-reporter who, with seemingly unfettered access to the White House press briefings, became famous for softball questions to the administration. Gannon, I'm sure Smith will remember, was sitting amongst the heavyweights of the traditional media - the White House press corps. While they were curious about the methods employed by Gannon, they let the story brew right under their noses. In the end, it was bloggers who exposed Gannon - not the "hard nosed" investigative reporters of the White House journalism squad.

Not a big deal? Wrong. The presence of Gannon exposed a Republican attempt to control the message by planting their own shill. What did the "hard nosed" reporters do? Nothing.

Then there's this little bit from Josh Marshall, where not only did he break information on a tip, but had it stolen from his site and repeated by an Associated Press reporter. Josh might have been a lot less hostile if the AP reporter had at least given the blog, from which he lifted the story, the proper credit.

Perhaps what Smith is missing is the fact that many blogs are run by subject matter experts. And while it's true that a majority are little more than opinion boards, many of those opinion blogs have an area or two of strong expertise.

The same cannot be said for the traditional media or the reporters who work that field. Most reporters are trained in journalism. Nowadays very few advance far enough to actually become good at it. While they pursue the occupation of a communicator, they regularly digress into commentary on subjects in which they have no real knowledge.

Smith is critical of the fact that blogs tend to feed off each other. Why he considers that a bad thing is curious. What actually happens is that the research and the story expand and move. Unlike what occurs in a newspaper, information grows as the story is fleshed out. And while Smith holds blogs in disdain because they extract their information from the very media sources many blogs love to scorn, he conveniently circumvents the fact that scrutiny by blogs is responsible for holding the feet of the traditional media to the fire. When traditional media reporters fail to properly research the material they present, bloggers are more than willing to jump in. Where a reporter is under pressure to meet artificially imposed deadlines and fulfill the demand of the news cycle, bloggers can spend as much time as necessary digging and pulling information together. What is damning for the traditional media is that often, the whole story a particular media report touched on and missed, is available through other media sources. Gathering all of those short media stories together often exposes a different and more complete story, as demonstrated here. Where the original story suggested that male firefighters were harassing their female co-workers, further digging proved that the men were fully supporting the women against a solitary antagonist - the fire chief.

The only threat to regular reporters and media organs is that if they don't do their job as expected by the public, there is now a system which will do it instead, and they're not members of the "press gallery". They are no longer competing with each other; there is a whole new crowd out there. Unruly, unsupervised and voracious in their desire to solve "mysteries", bloggers may be the entities which force news organs to actually return to thorough research, reasoned investigation and accurate reporting. If Smith views that as a bad thing, then it's working. Smith needs to acknowledge that the traditional media which increasingly produces reports confirmed by "unnamed sources", "a source close to the investigation" or "an administration official" has created suspicion and distrust.

On analysis, Smith's article is written not necessarily to take a swipe at the blogosphere, but more to allay the fears of newspaper readers that the traditional media is becoming redundant. And it is in many ways.

Blogs have proven that the simplex communications of the traditional media, where readers are forced to yell at the paper or scream at the TV is rapidly fading as an acceptable means of communicating with the public. Given a duplex system, interested readers will opt for that as a means to participate.

I'm afraid Smith's article doesn't stand for much, except sour grapes. I hope that's what he intended.

Update: Dig in those spurs and get over to the Canadian Cynic. CC has put up a challenge to The Globe and Mail. Max participation will return max results.

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