AT&T sponsored the first-ever WisPolitics/WisOpinion Blog Summit in Waukesha, Wis., Saturday. Notable speakers included University of Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse, WTMJ radio host Charlie Sykes and State Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison. Despite their diverse backgrounds, all these speakers had one thing in common: They are all bloggers.
While the summit covered many different facets of blogging, the recurring question was if and how traditional media outlets can come to coexist with the increasingly influential blogosphere. The relationship between bloggers and traditional media is certainly adversarial. Many bloggers see traditional media outlets as stuffy and arrogant, while professional journalists criticize blogs for their lack of objectivity.
While the stuffy and arrogant part may very well be on the mark, criticizing blogs for their lack of objectivity simply misses the point.
Everyone knows blogs aren't objective. They don't claim to be. If anything, these complaints should instead be directed toward the purportedly objective traditional news sources. Have you ever read a political blog that says it is "Fair and Balanced" or gives you "All The News That's Fit To Post"? Of course not. Blogs, in contrast to existing media giants, are quite comfortable with admitting their own bias.
Instead of all the hand-wringing over the increasing influence of biased blogs — and, as former CBS Vice President Jonathan Klein put it, "a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing" — we should be wondering how we ever got along without them. In the pre-blog era, would we have figured out Dan Rather's bombshell National Guard documents from the "1970s" were actually typed using the default settings in Microsoft Word? (Hat Tip: Little Green Footballs.)
What about former CNN Chief News Executive Eason Jordan and his unfounded claims that the U.S. military targeted journalists in Iraq? Or Howell Raines, The New York Times executive editor who oversaw Jayson Blair, the veritable Milli Vanilli of journalism? Without the massive blogosphere backlash, these two gentlemen might still be bringing news to the American public.
But blogs aren't only waging war on the "left-wing" media establishment. Just like The Onion, bloggers will unapologetically attack anyone spewing nonsense. Remember, it was bloggers who kept alive the Trent Lott Dixiecrat comments just long enough for traditional media outlets to grab the story.
Besides actually helping the traditional media, as in the case with Trent Lott, the blogosphere helps improve the media in other ways. The blogosphere's penchant for tenacious fact-checking makes traditional media stories actually surviving this gauntlet that much more credible. Additionally, the continuously updated nature of blogs has forced more timely news coverage across the board.
So while it is in vogue to frame the interplay between blogs and the traditional media as a fight to the death for media supremacy, this isn't the case at all. While this line of thinking gives both traditional journalists and bloggers an inflated sense of self-importance, the truth is that both need the other to survive. Unless the blogosphere begins pushing more of its own original reporting, the interplay between blogs and the traditional media will remain.
This is not to say we aren't seeing drastic shifts in the media climate. As UW political science professor Ken Mayer noted at the blog summit, blogging is "the early stages of a revolution." Indeed. Blogs are decentralizing and flattening the traditionally hierarchical nature of media distribution. They are spurring a revolution where forged documents, bogus claims and plagiarized stories no longer pass for real journalism. Ironically, blogs, with their utter lack of objectivity, are pushing traditional media closer to the objective ideal for which it strives.
Mark Murphy ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in economics and finance.