In response to Pennywit's tirade against me, setting me up as a "straw man" to be knocked down for things I did not say or assert, I just have a few things in response:
- Good intentions don't make good news reporting. Intending to use proper grammar does not make it so. Intentions of making a fabulous movie do not make it fabulous. Intending to write the Great American Novel does not win awards. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
- Pointing at the news consumer's perspective as irrelevant shows contempt for the consumer, which is one of the problems with the mainstream media. "It's all the consumers' fault," the media's old guard defenders cry. It's kind of like blaming the auto accident victim for Detroit's making of unsafe cars.
- Blogs are not a medium that competes with the news. Blogs are like the telephone. Pennywit still feels threatened by this. I'm not sure why. Three generations or so ago, many people said the same about the telephone. Oooh, it's so bad, they would cry. Nobody will ever leave the house or see their neighbors again. Now we get the same gloom and doom claims -- mainstream media would be just hunky dory if it weren't for them damn bloggers. I say get over it. The bloggers are not responsible for the mainstream news media's marginalization. That is the mainstream news media's own fault -- and when I say that, I point more to the owners and editors than the reporters.
Pennywit points to the New York Times' few blurbs about protests during the RNC as proof that the mainstream media is on the job. But when I lived in New York, the Times did not report on the riots in Thompkins Square Park, instigated by the NYPD when they charged in on horseback into a peaceful demonstration. The Times did not report on the beating of eyewitnesses who had the misfortune of having video cameras in their hands. No, you had to get this from the Voice and from cable access. The Times notoriously did not report on the US activities in Central and South America. More than one reporter wrote long pieces for other publications expressing their frustration at how the Times editors did not want to rattle that cage. These are just a couple of areas that come to mind.
Of course, one could probably find some paper somewhere that reported on something. But the news experience is not one of spending hours on Lexis-Nexis finding obscure news that you probably never knew that you didn't know. The mainstream news experience consists of a few hundred words, at best, on this, that and the other thing, packaged into 18 or 19 minutes. The cable experience adds in the screeching baboon shows, labeling it their "fair and balanced" reporting. The local news throws in murders of people you've never heard of, in neighborhoods you've never been, and fires and car crashes -- "Put the widow on the set, we need dirty laundry" -- and let's not forget the helicopter coverage of car chases and the "we got more doppler radar than you" weather coverage. And spliced in the midst of all this are interstitial commercials shoving crap you don't want or need into your face -- "Are you shy in crowds? You might have Social Anxiety Disorder!" -- paid for by the multinational conglomerates whose products the news will not cover critically.
Let my close by saying this: I am not a reporter. I do not claim to be. To assert that I'm not reporting news better than the mainstream media is just plain silly -- I'm not trying to. I also think that oversized SUVs are ecological, economic and safety horrors on the highways, but I don't build SUVs. Nor do I cook lobster, but serve me a rotten one and I will send it back. Pennywit seems to be protesting critical thinking on the part of the citizens. Apparently we aren't supposed to question the conventional wisdom they feed us. We're supposed to be couch potatoes, drinking in whatever they decide to feed us for whatever reason, and accept it as gospel.
Neither did I dismiss expertise itself, as Pennywit claims. (For being a self-described reporter, the paragon of virtue, the acme of knowledge, Pennywit certainly gets an awful lot wrong about the things I write.) I just question that the journalist has it by merit of receiving a paycheck, and the citizen does not have it by merit of not being a journalist. But let's face it, a lot of journalism is stupid, shallow, inane. A lot of it is punched up, given edge, hyped. The press pass is not exactly a badge of credibility.
Pennywit likes to find refuge in the exceptions to the rule. Yes, there are some great investigative reporters, and some of them are actually paid to investigate (though many seem to languish in one-day-a-story assignments). I am an avid reader of The New Yorker, which features some truly outstanding investigative pieces. But I don't read Time. I don't read People. I don't read The Weekly World News. The exceptional exceptions don't make the whole smell rosy, just like a good apple in a rotten barrel doesn't make the barrel fresh and edible.
To boot, in the areas where I am an expert, I see a lot of inane reporting. On events I've witnessed, I've seen and heard reportage that seemed spun out of total fiction. On in-depth topics, I've seen as much shallow, knee-jerk, uniformed journalism as is found on "news blogs" out there. No, I'm sorry. The paycheck is not a backstage pass on the truth.
Yet in general I don't blame the reporters. The news media are broken, and the guilty, imho, are the corporate owners. PBS and NPR seem to be having problems, too, with journalists getting into hot water when they venture to criticize one of the corporate sponsors. But don't take my word for it. I defer authority on that topic to Bill Moyers, who knows a thing or three about pressures on media to spin news as pro-corporate.
Pennywit finally tries to find refuge in that tired old homily about how they're just satisfying audience demand. But I ask, when every single channel is covering the same thing, where is the choice? How many times do I need to see Michael Jackson's perp walk, or Pope smoke, or poor Terri Schiavo's brain-dead body? Where is the hard news television network? In all the coverage of the War on Iraq, where is the coverage of the American casualties? Where is the coverage of the Iraqi casualties? Why do we get no more than what the Pentagon or Bush has to say on the matter? Why does a half-hour of BBC news tell me more than 24 hours of CNN?
You can't tell me there's no demand for real news, when nobody in the US MSM has ever tried it in 20 years.
Finally, again I will say that I never said blogs are replacing the news. Blogs are our voices of frustration as news consumers. So rather than deal with the tired old crap that's being fed by the corporate voiceboxes of Murdoch and GE and Disney, we look elsewhere, and point each other to alternative sources of information.
Kids smell bullshit, and getting all self-righteous about it won't make that sense go away. And trying to point fingers at bloggers is just plain silly: you're not pointing at competition, you're pointing at your own audience. Physician, heal thyself.