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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Dirty Rotten Bloggers

Odd article up over at the New York Times that starts out talking about reporters' "sources" who use the internet to fire back at them by publishing original transcripts, tapes and emails themselves. But then it wanders over into blogger territory to discuss people who will take the time to sift through all this stuff:
The printing of transcripts, e-mail messages and conversations, and the ability to pull up information from search engines like Google, have empowered those whom Jay Rosen, a blogger and journalism professor at New York University, calls "the people formerly known as the audience."

"In this new world, the audience and sources are publishers," Mr. Rosen said. "They are now saying to journalists, 'We are producers, too. So the interview lies midpoint between us. You produce things from it, and we do, too.' From now on, in a potentially hostile interview situation, this will be the norm."

All these developments have forced journalists to respond in a variety of ways, including becoming more open about their methods and techniques and perhaps more conscious of how they filter information.
I think they were trying to wrap their arms around a topic that is still quite elusive to traditional media minds, and did so with limited success. It is almost by accident they bring up a topic I'm quite interested in but haven't had the opportunity to write about.

The Kathleen Parkers of the world are irate because someone with no official journalistic imprimatur should be challenging them in the domain of news reporting, and she and her ilk are always shrieking about how bloggers have no editors and are basically just an unwashed horde who would be nothing without the big news bureaus to feed them raw data. Without going into all the keen misunderstandings in the realm of Kathleen Parker, let's just say she represents the mindset of many who don't comprehend what bloggers do or what the allure of a blog is to its readers.

I can only speak about my own experience, as someone who regularly converses with numerous journalists who cover the CIA leak case for the purpose of getting a better understanding of what's going on. And these are remarkably smart people, because I'm not going to waste my time talking to the dumb ones. But their job is to stay on the phone all day and cultivate sources, and their memories probably don't extend a whole lot further than the article they wrote yesterday.

They do not spend the hours and days sifting through raw data now available to average people on the internet. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough. That is not what they do. If you want to know some obscure detail about something Judith Miller did or said in June of 2003 you call emptywheel. If you need to know about journalists named in the subpoenas sent to the White House in January 2003 you email Jeralyn. If you expect that kind of depth of knowledge about details from the people whose job it is to dig up new dirt in this case, they don't have it. They don't have the time.

In this light bloggers serve the function of analysts. Or re-analyzers, more aptly, who attempt to contextualize as they sort through available data and look for patterns, inconsistencies and greater truths. For my money if I was trying to marry a blog with a newsroom that's where I'd start -- I'm constantly amazed that with all the access to information now available the big news bureaus don't have a deeper pool of researchers to be the adjunct memories of people who spend their time in the development of external news sources.

Because as they are coming to slowly realize, the audience has a critical faculty and they are anxious for interactivity in a way that the MSM just aren't set up to handle. From our standpoint we're trying to come up with new ideas and theories as we try to sort through the available information and expose the systemic bias from which it comes. We're not afraid to be wrong in our speculations, nor are we afraid to interact with people who like to think along side us.

A bit of light chit-chat with Robert Luskin and a thin whitewash of John Harris's political slant just isn't going to cut it as "news" much longer, but these are the habits of journalists that have been entrenched over centuries and I don't see them crumbling without great reluctance.

Oh and Bill O'Reilly's an asshole.

Update: Sean-Paul Kelly and I discussed this on his radio show on Friday night. He has more here.