Wednesday, September 9, 2009

From the p3 morning news feed: Journalists and bloggers

By coincidence, these turned up, one after the other, in my readings this morning:

Mark Bowden of The Atlantic Online examines the behind-the-scenes process by which those two now-famous/now-forgotten video clips of Sonia Sotomayor--about "Wise Latinas" and "policy making"--were already in the hands of Fox News and MSNBC, cued up and ready to go within moments of Obama's announcement of her nomination to the Supreme Court. It's an interesting case study on its own merits, but also interesting because Bowden ends his article with this lament:

Even an eager and ambitious political blogger like [Morgan] Richmond [the blogger who originally uncovered the Sotomayor video clips, and whose name was largely absent from the story going forward], because he is drawn to the work primarily out of political conviction, not curiosity, is less likely to experience the pleasure of finding something new, or of arriving at a completely original, unexpected insight, one that surprises even himself. He is missing out on the great fun of speaking wholly for himself, without fear or favor. This is what gives reporters the power to stir up trouble wherever they go. They can shake preconceptions and poke holes in presumption. They can celebrate the unnoticed and puncture the hyped. They can, as the old saying goes, afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. A reporter who thinks and speaks for himself, whose preeminent goal is providing deeper understanding, aspires even in political argument to persuade, which requires at the very least being seen as fair-minded and trustworthy by those—and this is the key—who are inclined to disagree with him. The honest, disinterested voice of a true journalist carries an authority that no self-branded liberal or conservative can have. “For a country to have a great writer is like having another government,” Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote. Journalism, done right, is enormously powerful precisely because it does not seek power. It seeks truth. Those who forsake it to shill for a product or a candidate or a party or an ideology diminish their own power. They are missing the most joyful part of the job.

Significantly, when it's time for Bowden to mention examples of those true and disinterested journalists in their joyful pursuits, he has to name A. J. Liebling (who died in 1963), and film roles by Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, and Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

Still, Bowden's encomium on the days of honest, shoe-leather journalism--done in by the push of the newspaper industry's decline and the pull of celebrity television journalism--is only an add-on at the end. His main purpose is to expose the extent to which journalists have come to count on (invariably partisan) bloggers to do much of the spade work in uncovering stories, research that used to be considered the journalists' job.

This process—political activists supplying material for TV news broadcasts—is not new, of course. It has largely replaced the work of on-the-scene reporters during political campaigns, which have become, in a sense, perpetual. The once-quadrennial clashes between parties over the White House are now simply the way our national business is conducted. In our exhausting 24/7 news cycle, demand for timely information and analysis is greater than ever. With journalists being laid off in droves, savvy political operatives have stepped eagerly into the breach.

Gillian Reagan at The New York Observer asks Are the Days of Matt Drudge Over? and (once you realize her sources are almost all newspaper editors and reporters) the answer (probably yes) won't surprise you as much as the reason why:

The Drudge Report is No. 115 in Quantcast’s list of most popular sites, ranking higher than, and That’s 1.1 million visitors every day, each of whom refresh the page about 15 times in a 24-hour period, according to Quantcast.

But, contrary to what some might think, fewer and fewer of those visitors seem to be the journalists that were once so captivated by Matt Drudge—not to mention his vaguely terror-inducing headlines, taste for the obscure and occasionally spinning siren light.

Matt Drudge may no longer be all that, not specifically because his site still looks as primitive as it did a decade ago (although no one misses a chance to mention that), but simply because reporters (with the evident exception of the Politico's staff) no longer look to Drudge for breaking stories.

Where do they look instead? (If you say they're returning to their own initiative and self-reliance, as in the days of Liebling, you aren't playing attention.) They're going to full-featured blogs like The Huffington Report and Talking Points Memo, "and even Twitter."

Tough to imagine Humphrey Bogart in a film about Twitter.

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