March 09, 2004

Shorenstein, "Big Media" Meets the "Bloggers", and who wins

Given that I spent so much effort on the ability to make fair use of the Shorenstein Center report "Big Media" Meets the "Bloggers", I should use that ability myself for some commentary.

The strongest passage, which leapt out at me, is the conclusion, and he said it, not me (emphasis mine):

But if blogs offered "big media" a rich vein and a testing ground for potential story ideas, it in turn conferred legitimacy on the blogosphere, and provided the "bigger megaphones," as Atrios puts it, that the young medium needed to be heard. "Weblogs," Atrios observed, "still need the validation of print and television media--otherwise it's just a bunch of people ranting away on the Internet, which is nothing new."


"For the most part," Atrios maintains, "the influence of blogs is limited to the degree to which they have influence on the rest of the media. Except for the very top hit-getting sites, blogs need to be amplified by media with bigger megaphones."


Many in the press and in the blog world gave Marshall credit for "pushing the Lott story to the forefront," as one observer wrote, "with more vigor than any other online pundit."58 Atrios, too, was credited by some with being "nearly as influential" as Marshall in calling attention to what Lott had said.59 But Atrios himself argues that Glenn Reynolds played a key role in elevating the story out of the blogosphere and into the mainstream. "The truth is," Atrios maintains, "if Glenn Reynolds hadn't taken a stand on this story, then no one would have considered the role of bloggers in [it]. ... It isn't because Glenn was the first or the most vocal. Rather it was because he has a big megaphone and real media connections."

Now, this is of course coming from these people:

This case was written by Esther Scott for Alex Jones, Director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, for use at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

So, considering the source, it must be noted they aren't going to produce a study hyping blog-triumphalism. But the observations are very useful to those who take "everyone's a journalist" too seriously (everyone's a journalist like everyone's a potential candidate for California Governor)

There's other great stuff, such as fascinating sections which show the psychology of "pack journalism":

O'Keefe remembers that an employee of another network "had one of their producers in their [Washington] bureau look at it and later came back and said, `No, I don't think it's anything.'" This gave O'Keefe some pause, causing him to second-guess his judgment. "I think there is something to the [notion] of pack journalism," he reflects, "of individuals believing that if something is noteworthy, ... everyone will get it. ... If they didn't all get it, then it couldn't possibly be a newsworthy item."

And the mechanics of reportorial sausage-making (emphasis mine):

O'Keefe quickly contacted Linda Douglass, ABC's congressional correspondent, who began making phone calls "to a lot of different interest groups and folks" to seek a response to what Lott had said. Douglass was "trolling for reaction," as O'Keefe puts it, which was standard journalistic practice when someone had made a possibly controversial statement. The press, Halperin notes, "is usually not in the business of saying, `Oh my God, this is outrageous,' but rather of asking someone else [to express an opinion]."

In other words, if you're a journalist, and you want to write "This is an outrage!", you don't come right out and write "This is an outrage!". Rather, you call around to the various groups you know, and see if you can "troll" someone to say it. So you can write, that in reaction to X's remark, Y said "This is an outrage!". There seems to be something wrong with a system where disguising the editorializing via a straw-mouthpiece is acceptable.

I'm reminded, to connect to a different story that has some parallels, that I've seen this as part of Declan McCullagh's technique in proselytizing Libertarianism. For example, where e.g. in the Al Gore Internet hit piece, he studiously avoided asking anyone who had actually been involved in technologically inventing the Internet, and got reactions only from right-wing and Libertarian-type flacks. No accident, he knew exactly what they would say.

Anyway, the whole report strikes me as an interesting view into the perspective of insiders as they work out how to place the new niche into the predator-prey-fodder foodchain.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , journo | on March 09, 2004 08:49 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
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Are you sure you're not really in love with this blog stuff? Guess "slow down" is all a matter of perspective.

Before I waste some virtual breath on your observations on our press, I would note that Calpundit is both "selling out" and has sold cat-blogging fans down the river.

(okay, the snide tone was just for fun)

1) "There seems to be something wrong with a system where disguising the editorializing via a straw-mouthpiece is acceptable."

Wow. The trouble here is that sometimes it's not the reporter really editorializing, but could be two other possibilities...

* The reporter might be trying to obtain representative viewpoints on the issue, but it's so hot that savvy experts won't go on record.

* The reporter might be trying to capitalize on the controversy, and thus be seeking to find extreme/interesting comments.

The latter case can also be bad, but not editorializing.

It can be tough to detect subtle ethical violations in journalism, and then what's the payoff... Apparently, nothing. Patriot Novak is still pontificating, and pushing around critics. But let's not get fatalistic.

The political climate shift has certainly dragged the weakness of our press into the light. Yet I'm in a forgiving mood, I see more truth in print now (via blog links of course, I could not survive outside the echo chamber), so all is well.

2) What brought down Lott was the pattern of statements appealing to good-ole-boy segregationists. He would not take the prohibition against such to heart, and he deserved the white hot focus of the press in attack mode.

How the blogsphere helps on something like the Lott (Thurmond Birthday Party) story is that bloggers do not have editors managing their time, so background work required to make the story does not get sidelined.

I think the press did the right thing on the Lott story, a good job. Unfortunately, the more I learn about "Good People" Frist, it seems clear the American People got dealt a bad hand.

I would keep Frist away from blogs... I don't think he can be trusted with the truth, or cats.

Posted by: sean broderick at March 13, 2004 10:25 AM

Hi, Seth: Who says "everyone's a journalist"?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 13, 2004 08:06 PM


One example, for almost those exact words:

"This is an experiment in interactive, participatory journalism. And in the new age of blogging, we are ALL journalists."

Although it's not exclusive to anyone in particular, by far.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at March 13, 2004 11:04 PM

Sean: Mea Culpa on backsliding - I want to be *heard*.

I don't think every instance of reaction-seeking is unethical, and certainly some good can come of it. But the "sock-puppetry" is still disturbing to me.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at March 13, 2004 11:08 PM