Reimagining the news
Here’s a fundamental difference between the right wing blogosphere that’s fading in influence and the liberal blogosphere that’s gaining—we feel completely different about the profession of journalism, even if many people in that profession don’t necessarily see it. I realized yesterday that I’ve been in this world for five years now, which means that I was around when we liberal bloggers felt like a small group of outrageous dissenters pushing back against the insanely huge and disturbed right wing blogosphere, which means that I had to witness all their bloviating about how they were “citizen journalists” who would topple the evil liberal media by blogging a lot about how awesome and manly they were sitting behind their computers wearing camouflage pajamas to “support” the troops. Real soldiers were going to take down Saddam Hussein, and the 101st Fighting Keyboardists would take down the “liberal” media that did them the favor of helping them get their war, but would occasionally publish pieces that weren’t Dubya blow jobs, and therefore the “liberal” media had to go. But that’s okay; right wing bloggers would publish all the news you need to know, because they can reprint White House press releases, too.
I bring this up, because as a blogger you occasionally get some baffling hostility from mainstream media reporters (never from the alternative press, though), and I think it’s because they sort of lump all bloggers together as their enemies, because right wing bloggers actually declared themselves as such. And liberal bloggers criticize the media relentlessly, so it’s no wonder journalists often think we’re all in the same boat, and frankly I think that’s one reason that mainstream media sources were glad to dogpile myself and Melissa McEwan two years ago without doing things like checking up on the Catholic League to find out what they were really about. We got to stand in for all bloggers and have some tar smeared on our asses and lit on fire. But this isn’t to complain at all, but to say that there’s a substantive difference between the right and left bloggers on the issue of the mainstream media. Right bloggers just wanted it gone, because an independent media is always a threat to their propaganda bliss, even if it’s just an abstract threat and the media is trying hard to play Pravda, like in the run-up to the war. Liberals just want the media to be better—more responsible, and less prone to running with stupid stories based on asinine assumptions like “bipartisanship is a virtue“. But we’re not stupid. We know that journalism requires resources that bloggers don’t have, and that blogs especially are nothing without journalists coming up with stories we can then comment on.
Thus the decline of the news due to lack of funding is a major issue that causes me to suck down my fair share of Tums. And it’s hitting newspapers the hardest, which is a shame, because as Gary Kamiya says, 80% of online news coverage and probably 95% of what’s on the talking heads shows on TV comes from old-fashioned print news sources. No newspapers, no news. But no advertising revenue, no newspapers. Something has to give, and Kamiya’s right—it’s time for the government to step in and subsidize journalism. It does this already, with PBS and NPR, but not nearly enough. NPR particularly should never have to beg for money, as they currently do, because they offer a valuable public service and we should be paying for that with government funds, no question. Hand-wringing over journalistic integrity shouldn’t even enter into this equation—the BBC model shows that it can be done with ease, and anyway, the corporate-funded journalism we have now has way more conflict of interest issues.
To add to what Kamiya said, this is yet another place where failing economic forces can give rise to radical change. We could do so much more than just stepping in and subsidizing currently existing institutions, though we should do that (based on merit, though!). One of the major issues with newspapers is not just the cost of reporting, but paper and distribution costs. This could be an opportunity to really move newspapers online. Taking the profit motive out of papers and giving them incentives to make their websites a lot better would be good for cutting costs in the long run, good for the environment, and would make the symbiotic interaction between real journalists and bloggers more obvious, and therefore make their relationships better. And hell, maybe it would mean people read more books if they get their news online and need something to hold in their hands for coffee breaks and public transportation time-killing.