While media consolidates, blogs proliferate

BlueOregon co-founder and editor Jeff Alworth has an op-ed in today's Oregonian. He makes the case that blogs are good for democracy, despite what some ink-on-paper editorialists argue:

In the offices of the nation's newspapers, some editors have tut-tutted bloggers as irresponsible partisans not beholden to journalistic ethics.

It's true that some unscrupulous bloggers spread rumors and invective. But on the whole, blogs perform a valuable function in our society: They encourage participation among voters, help counteract the influence of big money in politics and work as a corrective to the "horse race" coverage too often reflected in the mainstream media.

The central criticism of blogs concerns their power. Critics argue that, like single-issue PACs, blogs use a well-organized minority to dictate terms to politicians, adding to the polarization that plagues American politics. That's nonsense. Blogs by their very nature are a democratic medium. No one controls the content of the posts or comments. And there are a dozen or more influential Oregon blogs, all with their own writers, readers and commenters. Bloggers don't coordinate among themselves or often even know one another. If blogs exercise power, it's the power of regular citizens talking about issues that matter to them. That's no perversion of the political process -- it's a contribution to a healthy process.

Since anybody can blog, everybody has a voice:

The consolidation of power in the media, highlighted last week by Rupert Murdoch's purchase of The Wall Street Journal, underscores a troubling propensity in the Fourth Estate. Blogs, on the other hand, have been on the front lines in challenging sloppy, inaccurate or non-existent reporting. Because bloggers don't have limited column space or advertisers to please, they can doggedly -- some might say obsessively -- follow news stories they think are being overlooked.

Blogs aren't a panacea for an unhealthy political environment. They can't magically make government work efficiently or single-handedly root out corruption. But bloggers are far from the fringe radicals portrayed on Bill O'Reilly's show. They're regular people who, through this emerging medium, have seen their voices suddenly start to matter.

In a democracy, that's not a bad thing.

Read the rest. Discuss.

  • Unrepentant Liberal (unverified)

    The truth is that outside of the bubble of what passes for journalism these days, there are thousands of incredibly smart and intelligent people with much more interest and expertise in the subjects which journalists treat with nothing more than 'drive-by' interest. There is a whole lotta bad journalism being committed these days and blogs are a wonderful resource in combating public ignorance. If news organizations want to remain relevant they need to do a better and more importantly, more accurate job of reporting the news.

  • spicey (unverified)

    Great editorial, Jeff. I wish there could have been more about how destructive O'Reilly is - to peoples' lives, to the democratic process. But I think your points are on the mark, and I'm heartened that the O will print something that basically tells it to get better or die out. I get a much higher percentage of my news from BlueOregon and DailyKos than from the O or any other newsource. It's fresher, it's got more feeling, it's snarky, and I trust the sources after reading their posts day after day - they have personalities, we have personalities. So, onward and upward!

  • Admiral Naismith (unverified)

    Seems to me it's the newspapers and the rest of the Edward Arnold Big Media that have become irresponsible partisans not beholden to journalistic ethics.

    Bloggers are merely filling the void. They're the modern equivalent of the independent vilage newspaper run by the town curmudgeon the manner he sees fit. With fewer limits on the amount of guest op-ed writers, letters to the editor, and subscriber base, but the principle is the same.

    Big One-Way media should stop projecting their failings onto the actual free press.

  • (Show?)

    The O gives you 500 words. A slightly longer version is here. And thanks!

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    I hunted in vain for an email address for Jeff this morning to congratulate him on this column. Not only was it spot-on, but I was just tickled that it was published at all (and sitting on the same page as a Joe Conason column, hallelujah!).

    Froomkin, incidentally, argues with a lot of justification that "the best blogger ever died in 1989 at the age of 81."


    I agree completely, and it's been a long empty void since I F Stone published his Weekly.

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    Great editorial, and I agree with most of the points. I don't want to toss the mainstream media overboard, however, or oversell the current state of the blogosphere.

    You write: help counteract the influence of big money in politics See 2004 "scandals" over paid bloggers, surely to reoccur in 2008. I suspect there are many, many "paid" posters on the most influential blogs. We already know that some of the "You Tube" debate video questions were, in fact, produced by the campaigns and the political parties.

    Blogs by their very nature are a democratic medium. No one controls the content of the posts or comments. "by their very nature"? Censorship of comments on blogs is not at all unusual, and some blogs don't allow comments.

    They're regular people Surely not true. Bloggers are a broader class of elites that journalists, but let's not kid ourselves, Kos, Volokh, the writers on TPM, and the other leading blogs are far from just folks.

    Blogs, and online media in general, are still used by a small slice of the population (the most recent Pew study estimates 10-12% of the population).

    I agree wholeheartedly with the fact-checking role of the blogs, and they also can help to drive the agenda.

    I do think that bloggers, in general, have far more firmly held ideological beliefs and have a lot more axes to grind that the typical journalist (not TV commentator like O'Reilly--let's make sure we keep these separate!).

    I don't kid myself that they are "independent" voices.

  • Thomas Ware (unverified)

    I've this on my sidebar:

    The great promise of the internet may be that it brings us back to the future, so to speak. In the 1700s, de Toqueville was amazed with our American obsession with information, our abundance of little newspapers, everyone a reporter, everyone with an opinion to share, and many interested parties reading and debating these opinions and observations. This energy struck him as uniquely American, and today, this energy is global, and it is embodied in the internet, in the blogosphere specifically. The blogosphere is that rough, raw and personal reporting, complete with elements of gossip and imagination. Mainstream media is establishment media, the kings’ notices to the serfs. I think Allison’s investigation into how well or how poorly the truth was reported in the run-up to Iraq, within the blogosphere and by the mainstream media, is not only important, but points us into a new place that may in fact lead us to fewer wars rather than more wars. After Iran, that is…. Karen Kwiatkowski 2007
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    Here's a great piece from Slate today on the art of blog naming.

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    Paul, a few thoughts.

    I suspect there are many, many "paid" posters on the most influential blogs.

    There's a very serious point here which you'll surely acknowledge: owning the means of production and distribution, as blogs do, puts them in a radically different category than paying the writers. Blogs are, for the first time in generations, an avenue for regular citizens to speak directly to policymakers without having to go through an intercessory agent with a different agenda. What you cite is accurate as far as it goes, but does little to refute my larger point.

    Censorship of comments on blogs is not at all unusual, and some blogs don't allow comments.

    I would argue the medium's nature is innately democratic. While some don't allow comments (a small minority), even these link to and have conversations with other citizen bloggers and emailers in a way unlike you see in the MSM. Even this discussion we're having is not possible via the form the original article was delivered.

    Bloggers are a broader class of elites that journalists, but let's not kid ourselves, Kos, Volokh, the writers on TPM, and the other leading blogs are far from just folks.

    Let's break down your "elites" argument. Josh Marshall and Eugene Volokh are elites of a kind, but certainly not media elites. They would never have had a venue for voicing their opinions prior to blogging. The rise of the academic blogger marks an unprecedented form of communication. People with expertise are now able to comment to laypeople on events that happen within their field. Again, impossible in the pre-blog days. And Markos is elite only because his blog became popular--it's not really fair to blame people for being elite after they became bloggers. And of course, you've cherry-picked. The majority of bloggers are people like me who had previously no way to get our opinions out to a larger audience.

    I don't kid myself that they are "independent" voices.

    I think you make a mistake here. There's a big difference between "independent" and "objective." The VAST majority of bloggers (I doubt there's been a survey, but surely in excess of 95%) don't earn a dime blogging. They may or may not be partisan, but they are surely independent.

    I have written in blogs for nearly five years and have yet to earn a single dime at it. You could plausibly argue (though I won't go quite that far) that bloggers are more independent than paid writers, for their motivation is purely the communication. It is unsullied by any other consideration.

  • Adrian (unverified)

    If blogs were outlawed, only outlaws would have blogs. Which, if you think about it, would be pretty convenient for our police force.

  • Eric J. (unverified)

    If I remember correctly (or it could be something else), wern't blogs originally on-line diaries, but with the twist of getting comments on the entries?

    Blogs have now become The Marketplace of Ideas that many of us want the whole world to have and we are all better for it.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Blogs - I still do not like the word - are necessary and beneficial in today's monopoly media situation, but they do not replace properly functioning news organizations that have the resources to investigate and report on a wide range of matters. There are a few brave but woefully underfunded alternative media efforts, but they are easily drowned out by the incessant infotainment of the corporate clones.

  • Zoe Walmer (unverified)

    I'm reading a memoir right now by Timothy Crouse who was a journalist covering McGovern's campaign in 1972 (it's called Boys On The Bus, I highly reccomend it). Early on he discusses how pack journalism, the practice of reporters using the same information and writing the same stories (especially needing to stick to what the AP covers), made their job something of a joke. This still goes on to a great extent today and, according to Crouse, prevents journalists from reporting on many important and interesting stories because they don't want to differ from their peers for fear of losing credibilty or making waves.

    I see blogs as a fantastic way of counteracting this problem. Bloggers are able to report on whatever they want because they are independent. By bringing into the light stories that print journalists formerly wouldn't dare write about, these stories are able to reach a broader audience--or any audience at all in the case of some stories. When a story gains coverage and credibility through the blogosphere it becomes easier for newspapers to cover it, even if they otherwise may not have. I agree with Tom that bloggers can't replace traditional journalists, but rather that we can enhance the media and news reporting world as a whole through our combined efforts.

  • samsrirao (unverified)
    <h2>It is my sad experience that blogs serve no purpose at least in India. I have created many blogs of serious public concern with the hope that it may attract the print/electronic media to highlight them. These blogs have even been picked up by Google and prominently displayed. But to my great disappointment, no newspaper has reproduced it as if it is a hot potato that can't be held even with a pair of tongs. For details of one such blog, please click the mouse on Google search for "How to uphold the dignity and honour of judiciary in India?" e-mail: [email protected], New Delhi, India.</h2>
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