Bloggers and journalists

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David Fryxell, publisher of the Desert Exposure, has an editor’s note in this month’s issue that caught my eye. Fryxell writes about bloggers and other “amateurs” and their responsibilities to readers. Fryxell also talks about things he’s learned as a journalist during the past 30 years.

Now, I’ll be honest: I’ve only been a journalist for four years, but I’ve been a blogger longer than that. And I strive, when working and when blogging here on my personal site, to be credible in everything I write. Live From Silver City is opinionated, because I use it as an avenue for saying things I couldn’t responsibly say when writing for the Daily Press.

Fryxell didn’t mention any names (and I don’t know that he has any specific quarrels with my work at the Daily Press of with this site). He did, however, make some rather sweeping generalizations:

Proponents praise blogs and other personal publishing via the Internet as ushering in a new era of independent voices, unfettered by the hidebound ways of Old Media. I suppose this can be true as well, though I can’t help wondering who has time to read all these blogs and whether this audience—and the bloggers too—shouldn’t perhaps get a life instead.

Fryxell’s note comes on the heels of two recent discussions by bloggers themselves regarding our relationship with “Old Media.” First off, my friend Amanda, who gets right to the point:

One of the most grating beliefs I come across that people have about political blogging is the notion that when we offer ourselves as alternatives to the mainstream media, we are declaring ourselves “citizen journalists.”

She’s got a point, but what really gets me is Glenn Greenwald’s complete takedown of “Old Media” in regards to the lead up to the Iraq War:

Instead, it is because, throughout the Bush presidency (and even before), the national American media as a whole has been extraordinarily gullible, if not outright complicit, in disseminating all sorts of patent falsehoods under the guise of unidentified agenda-driven sources. As but one example, a 2005 Harris poll found that most Americans distrust their media, and the distrust is far more pervasive than exists in Europe: “A 62 to 22 percent (almost 3-to-1) majority of Americans did not trust ‘the press’; Europeans were split 47 to 46 percent.”

And at least one key reason for that distrust is both clear and compelling. Many Americans who more or less did trust the judgment of the country’s most respectable media outlets were severely betrayed, when they supported an invasion of a sovereign country based exclusively on patently false claims that were uncritically though aggressively disseminated by the American press.

I appreciate Fryxell’s position: indeed, I share some of his thoughts on the subject. However, I can’t agree with this:

When people start to get their “facts” from blogs and email postings, however, when they begin to invest amateurs with the trust previously reserved for journalism professionals, suddenly those hidebound ways look pretty important. I know it sounds snooty to speak of “amateurs” and “professionals.” Isn’t anybody who can bang on a keyboard a “writer”? (Sure, and I’m pretty good with a carving knife and have always had a hankering to try heart surgery.)

The point isn’t to inhibit anyone’s creative expression or keep Joe Blogger from telling the world what he really thinks of the latest World of Warcraft. Rather, it’s that if electronic instant journalists want to play the game, they have to abide by the same rules of fairness, even-handedness, transparency and, above all, accuracy. And when they critique mainstream media, bloggers had better be prepared to have themselves held to the same standards.

Readers are turning to blogs because they’ve lost trust in traditional media outlets. As a profession, us journalists have failed our readers during the past six years. And, as Amanda said, most bloggers aren’t trying to be journalists.

Are blogs above criticism? Of course not. Bloggers make mistakes just as journalists do, and I do think they should strive (as Fryxell suggests) to be accurate, fair and transparent. But that does not mean they can’t provide accurate information to readers, nor does it mean they aren’t incredibly valuable to the public discourse.

Take, for example, Talking Points Memo, the blogging organization that kept after the U.S. Attorney Story until the traditional media caught on.

I don’t know that Fryxell has read any of the incredible blogs out there: for instance, how about Heath? The man is a blogger by definition, but the guy is as close to an independent journalist as you can get. He also meets all the criteria Fryxell identified: he’s transparent, incredibly accurate, and beats many publications to the story because of the nature of his media.

This is a timely conversation to have, and I hope to continue it in some fashion with Fryxell.

UPDATE — 4/9/07 5 pm: Wow, right on the heels of Fryxell’s note comes this New York Times article regarding the bad behavior among blogs. Whatever will the world do?

All mocking aside, definitely check out Digby’s response:

The discourse that everyone is so shocked to see is now uncivil and “nasty” was polluted decades ago by a bunch of rich, white businessmen who saw that they could make a very nice profit at exploiting the lizard brain of the American rightwing and help their political cause at the same time. The media thought it was all in good fun (and good for their bosses) just as they do today.

We bloggers didn’t make this toxic, fetid environment, we just live in it. And toxic and fetid it is. At some point the prim and proper MSM are going to have to put down the smelling salts over the uncivil blogosphere and deal with the fact that the world they enabled with their convivial chuckling and snorting at Rush and Imus over the years has brought us to this place. The rest of us are little busy fighting off the neanderthal thugs they helped create.

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