Journalism's fear and loathing of blogs
Mainstream journalism is running scared. It's watching its audience numbers decline and its public trust numbers drop. Newspapers, magazines, and network television news have been shaken by major scandals. The media have seen the future and it is blogging.
Or at least that's the story this year. "Mainstream journalism," however you want to define it, has been under siege so long it's hard to keep track of all the people, things, and outlets that were or are still going to destroy it.
Blogs, or weblogs - websites on which a person or a group of people opines about events, reports what's been heard, or simply links to other sites (many of which are also blogs) - are the latest concern among journalists who look at them with curiosity and fear.
Many believe blogs are a dangerous direct competitor to mainstream journalism - a way for individuals and interest groups to reach around the gatekeeper function that newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio have traditionally held. Some even see them as the future of journalism; an army of citizen journalists bringing the unfiltered news to a public hungry for the inside dope.
"The latest, and perhaps gravest, challenge to the journalistic establishment is the blog," Richard Posner wrote last week in The New York Times Book Review. Actually Mr. Posner wrote about a lot of challenges the media faced, but gave blogs a lot of space as he spelled out their advantages. They bring expertise. They bring flair and opinion. They bring more checks and balances than the mainstream media.
"It's as if the Associated Press or Reuters had millions of reporters, many of them experts, all working with no salary for free newspapers that carried no advertising," he explained.
Ah, yes, in the future news will be bountiful and free with no advertising. Can't beat that. If they throw in complimentary ice cream we've really got something here.
Let me just say for the record, I have nothing against blogs. I actually like them. Their formula of opinion, links, and reportage can be refreshing - though they are often short on the last part of that mix. And the voices they enter into the media dialogue sometimes offer perspectives that otherwise might never be heard.
But if you really look closely, all this "and in the future ..." talk seems a bit far-fetched for a number of reasons.