Friday, January 19, 2007

Breaching the barrier: blogging in the face of traditional media

We are witnessing history in the prosecution of the U.S. v. Libby trial.

But not because this case presents the hologram in which the strategy to launch a unilateral war was prepared and promoted; it is because bloggers are covering this trial within a federal courthouse, side by side with traditional media journalists.

What this means to the futures of blogging and journalism is not clear. There is a wariness and a grudging respect, like that between professional and amateur athletes. They appreciate each others' skills and occasionally play on the same fields, but the money gets in the way by creating a line of demarcation between them.

In theory, traditional media shares the same objectives with most bloggers; to discover the truth and to write cogently about it. But something happened to traditional media; it lost its way, believing that its customers were advertisers and shareholders, forgetting that readers were the core of their business. Writing to sell product is a completely different matter from writing to disclose a researched truth. Many bloggers have taken up writing because they could no longer find the truth in traditional media; they had to self-publish in order to disclose the truth. Traditional media has struggled with understanding why this would become so popular, frequently dismissing blogging as nothing more than idle chit-chat or vulgarity from the unwashed masses. In doing so, they've missed that their own business model is terminal.

The blogging of the Libby trial represents a new phase in the relationship (or lack thereof) between bloggers and the traditional media. They are literally looking over each others' shoulders in the same space, writing about the very same topics in sync, at the same time. But the output is quite different, with traditional media being far more sanitized; blogger output is not only frank, immediate and authentic, but covering the media as well as the subject trial at the same time. Given these differences in their coverage during the jury selection process, what will the actual trial bring?

There are a couple of candid comments shared this evening about the media by FireDogLake's live blogger Pachacutec. In response to a question as to the difference between blogging from live video of the courtroom versus experiencing the courtroom itself, he shared:

...being around the other media folks helped be catch quotes better, since they are better quote catchers. The media room also makes for a group experience that at once clarifies errant impressions through live dialogue and also supports the creation of a consensus point of view of the proceedings, evening out the coverage because the creation of the understanding of the events develops as members of different news outlets influence each other, subtly.”

An observation like this is incredibly rare from traditional media journalists. Are the seeds of the groupthink we've seen in the media over the last dozen years right here in this perspective?

Equally telling, Pachacutec shares:

"...My colleagues in the press room are under the impression we have no edito[r]s in the blogoverse.

That may be true of people like Glen Reynolds, who don’t allow comments, but we have all of you. We bloggers with commenters have lots of editors.

What we don’t have, though, are people telling us what to write about, assigning us to stories."

Yet another indication of traditional media journalists' lack of understanding about blogging and collaborative communities. Readers are editors; blogging collapses the wall between authorship and readership, effectively removing the editor since readers are generally able to discern problems with a post without prior editorial sanitizing.

Pachacutec and I don't agree, though on his last observation. Bloggers most certainly do have a lot of people telling them what stories to write or cover. Traffic is a gauge or measure that can tell bloggers they are on the right track. Comments also reflect disconnects between bloggers and readers.

Day Three of jury selection in the Libby trial has now come and gone, with another day of selection expected. This is one day longer than initially allotted. But if you were reading the live blogging, you'd know exactly how this came about. What will Day Four bring?

[Cross-posted to RadioFreeBlogistan]

This is really interesting, Rayne. I had no idea this was going on, and I find the whole notion really interesting. I'm certain that bloggers will catch things the MSM misses, but I'm interested in how approaching coverage with an obvious, previously stated political bias will affect the coverage.

Not that there is no bias in the MSM -- certainly there are lots of partisan or liberal/conservative publications -- but bloggers tend to be a little less nuanced and objective about it.

You'll probably disagree with me on that, but I think it's a result of the editorial process. There are some very intelligent and thoughtful people still working as editors, even in such a corrupt industry.

At the end of the day, though, I'd probably turn to the MSM first, regardless. So what does that say about me?

I think it says as a blogger, I know how unobjective I am.

When I write for a paper someday, then I'll tell you the impact that has on my objectivity:).
Oh no, I don't disagree with you at all about bias; I am completely and utterly biased, it's one of a few main reasons I blog.

But media in the U.S., particularly print media, has a nasty habit of trying to come across as equitable and fair when it is absolutely untrue that they are. Media consolidation has led to the concentration of outlets under virtually exclusive conservative domain; outlets go out of their way to monitor for liberal bias, to the point of being exclusively conservative in perspective. That's a real danger. Were outlets to clearly state their bias at the outset might even be healthier for a democratic citizenry than this twisted assumption that media is without bias here.

What bloggers in this particular situation do is provide real, immediate evidence of observation of the facts, in the face of media. The print media is forced to rethink its possible groupthink and its editorial process, simply because we the public have already seen the facts on the ground through our equals and cohorts with whom we have a much tighter trust relationship. We already note some differences in coverage -- far more details about the jury selection process for example. Yesterday we noted a near universal consensus on the outcome since it appears the point about which the media agreed was the one thing they could readily grasp. The live blogger, however, is the acknowledged subject matter expert about the Plame outing; they could interject, in mid-stream, observations pointing out inconsistencies and inaccuracies in testimony that the mainstream media will struggle to vet.

And unlike the mainstream media, we are having a conversation; we can ask questions during the live blogging about the process, can ask for corrections or adjustments to coverage. The mainstream media has no dialogue with us, serves up whatever its post-groupthink editorial process will permit, and that's that. We can point out the problems with their coverage, but doing so is a one-way street and will not be reflected in the next day's coverage, if ever. We've collapsed the editorial process, in other words. We are participant and observer, creator and editor, publisher and reader.

Keep in mind, too, that different countries have different experiences and different laws about their media. Your experience in Canada may be very different from ours.
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