Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Journalism and the Blogosphere

marjorie says...

Have a look at Heath Haussamen taking us all to task for a (non) story.

His piece is angry, conjuring images of a father figure (the real journalist) taking to task all the children (bloggers) for their irresponsibility. But there's a bit of irony in the matter as well. Heath's detailing why he believes its a (non) story adds a lot to the (non) story. It's a nice piece of investigative journalism, albeit forced upon him it seems.

Heath's point that we should be careful about the charges we make is well taken. As I said in my blog, we don't know the facts, and perhaps I should have reiterated that. Maybe my priorities are just distorted...I found the KKOB memo more interesting than anything (!). Maybe because I tend to forget about the internal machinations of the Republican party...they don't cross my mind much. And I like media criticism.

So let's touch on the media a little. Perhaps Heath's post in reaction to the blogosphere in this case is an actual story in itself...

Heath says we get no respect in the blogosphere. I agree that we get very little...from "real journalists" (although they seem to like to check out our blogs to find their stories). But Heath is trying to change that he says: "As a journalist who is working hard to try to bring some integrity to the blogosphere, it makes me furious," (regarding the "shameful" bloggers in this case).

So is Heath a journalist or a blogger? A journalist who is blogging? A blogger who is doing "real journalism"? Was the blogosphere simply lacking in integrity before he started his site?

To be clear, I like Heath's revenue generating news-site and read it regularly. I think it could use some improvements in a few areas (women columnists? people of color columnists?), but in general I appreciate the site a lot. I appreciate that journalists like Heath are moving online and applying their training to this medium. I think it does improve the blogging world we inhabit, and his stories point us in interesting directions.

But is it fair for him to denigrate the blogosphere the way he does (which is not all liberal, by the way)? I think not. He and others should offer their critiques, and accept the just as valid pressure they get in return. The media landscape has been too centralized, too restricted to just a few voices for too long. There are multiple ways of interpreting the world, not all of which are learned in Journalism school. Training is a good thing, of course. But it also can lead to what many refer to as the (stifling) "cult of expertise."

In the extensive world of media criticism, one of the central notions debated is whether or not objectivity can really exist. When one goes to journalism school, one of the things supposedly learned is how to present a story in an un-biased, objective manner. Having such official training in "objectivity" is one of the primary things that makes one an "expert"...or, "real journalist" in our blogging world. I think most journalists really believe they can do this. I do not believe it. I fall in the camp that says you can give it a good shot, but real objectivity can't exist. And in fact I think my position is bolstered by the rigorous rule of law approach found in this country. Without the availability of true objectivity, we fall back on law and the countless court cases that have refined for us as a society how we are and are not to act.

When it comes to journalism, biases show easily in decisions that are made about what stories to cover, from what perspective to cover them, what is included and what is left out. Sometimes, just one simple word or turn of phrase makes biases apparent. In a market based system in which the vast majority of journalism is for profit, journalism becomes particularly problematic. Who even gets a job in the first place, or promotions, becomes suspect in a corporate model that has its eye on the bottom line. In this type of model, entire sectors of our society are sorely under-represented. "Rules" of journalism have been developed to mitigate some of these contradictions but the essential problem remains.

For this reason, not only should there exist a fourth estate keeping a rigorous eye on government, but there should be a "fifth estate" keeping an eye on the press. Because the press is powerful. Often, you will find this fifth estate in the blogosphere, not only critiquing the media but filling in gaps, as Barb commented on Heath's post: "Blogs can fill the gap on stories that the mainstream media and journalistic bloggers don't or won't run. There's always an opportunity to respond by those being mentioned and opinion has its place in political discourse last time I looked."

We are in a changing media landscape...and we have no idea how it will look in the future. We don't know how it will be funded, and we don't know whether it will be more restricted or more open to diverse voices. As it stands, the blogosphere offers an unprecedented space for dialogue, and for under-represented voices and perspectives to be expressed. It's a contested space, and I hold out hopes that what evolves out of it will be a new and improved media landscape in which diverse voices flourish...not just those deriving from the flawed media structure that currently exists.

I think we should all rue the day that space shrinks for the type of blogging that happens today, because what is blossoming now is vibrant. It should not be shut down. Rather than castigate the shameful bloggers, and proclaim his crusade to bring integrity to the blogosphere, Haussamen might instead consider how he can serve as a resource for pushing us all in a better direction.