Thursday, March 08, 2007

The MSM/Blogger Divide

Recently, Joan Vennochi and I have been trading emails. I thought her web column was unfair, she thought my "Laziest Article Yet" blog was, well, equally unfair. Of course, the constant barrage of articles that have hurt Deval slightly, at least in the mean time, haven't put me in a good place of mind - and whenever that happens, we tend to retreat to what we know best. A lot of what I had to say in terms of media critique was true and I stick behind it; however, when Vennochi emailed me this afternoon she said something poignant that was sort of a small epiphany.

I realized that it's very easy to sit here at my computer, read an article and find 20 holes in it - just like it's easy to sit in the backseat of a car and tell the driver he or she is speeding, or should have stopped sooner. Does that mean the person wasn't speeding or shouldn't have stopped sooner? Of course not. The media has made some mistakes in these stories and, in large part, I've pointed them out. It's important to do that.

However, I should have done that with the same understanding that Vennochi mentioned. It's not easy to get a story exactly right as a singular writer or even organization, as we all live within a bubble. Furthermore, even with an editor, the same editors are the ones reading from the same authors, every day. The environment that's created is still insulated and incapable of thinking about all the different facets of the story. That's not a knock on the media or the Globe because, as I've indicated quite clearly on this post, I'm obviously suspectible to it too.

Joan Vennochi was sparked to send me an email today based on a comment I made on BMG. First, I should applaud any Globe writer who's spending that kind of time actually reading the comments on blogs - because, as any frequent comment-reader can attest, that takes dedication. In the comment (and on an earlier blog today), I criticized Lisa Wangsness for not interviewing bloggers - and instead ripping their quotes off a website. Doing so eliminates any chance for bloggers to qualify statements in a thoughtful manner, so I found it somewhat annoying. Yet, the way I expressed my annoyance almost automatically assumed Lisa was doing it to sensationalize the story, but Vennochi disagreed.

Every day, bloggers comment on what journalists write, without ever calling the journalist in question to ask for additional perspective,explanation, etc.

Let's be honest, it would be nearly impossible to do that, be it because there are just so many bloggers, so few journalists or the fact that it's rare to see a full-time blogger - and they have to keep up their day jobs.

To further complicate the matter, while bloggers can write as much as they want and as frequently as they want, Vennochi made the equally poignant point in our emails that writers in the media have strict word limits in which to tell their stories. They can't get every viewpoint, factoid or side of the story in any article. It's as equally impossible as every blogger calling a particular journalist before they criticized their work.

So what do we all do? How do we bridge this MSM/Blogger Divide? For one thing, we need to develop better relationships. Vennochi obviously understands that; she's done quite a bit to reach out to bloggers in this situation. Furthermore, maybe when bloggers criticize the media - which is necessary - we need to focus more on being constructive and less on being snarky and personal. I'll readily admit: that's a hard sell. Half the reason people read blogs is to see what will slip by a blogger's fingers and for the giggles. Yet, it's a tight rope that must be crossed.

However, that's not where it should stop. Any blogger will admit this: bloggers need the media - and the media greatly benefits from bloggers. When I'm harsh on the Globe - or other media sources - it isn't because I hate the Globe or the media, it's because I love to hate it. In fact, I devour it like a vampire who loves humans. So it's important that the MSM and blogosphere develop a better relationship. Ultimately, most of us want the same thing.

Don't get me wrong; I don't think we should necessarily be "friends" - to see how bad that kind of relationship can be, ask Judy Miller. After all, she protected her "friends" even when they were lying to her about Iraq, without having to worry about any risks due to the anonymity Miller granted. No, we need a relationship that's more like a friendly rivalry - two groups of people who really like each other, yet always try to outdo one an other when it comes to the big game. They're the kind of people who are willing to work together in order to achieve success, even though they're on different teams and have different goals.

How do we get that to work? There are probably hundreds of things we should do, but today I'm going to offer one idea. Maybe what we need to do is further develop the concept of citizen-journalists. A lot of bloggers out there consider themselves citizen journalists: they're the type of people who write about stories that the media may not cover or cover well enough. Often, they break stories that the media covers later. They're the type of people who do a lot of good. In a day and age when one of the reasons why the media comes under more criticism than ever is, in great part, because they've had to cut back on real journalists due to a lack of resources, citizen journalists could be the cure.

With thousands of citizens out there who are already investigating, doing serious research and then blogging about it, it's time someone tap into their full potential. I don't think someone has to be a genius to figure out there's a mutual opportunity here: the media can both create, find, develop and publish important stories - with a cost-effective, outsider's perspective - and create a better, mutually beneficial relationship with the kinds of people who both blog and read blogs. Furthermore, writers and editors would be exposed to new people who would stop the stifling insulation. Bloggers, on the other hand, would benefit from creating relationships with real, professionally trained journalists. Both sides would work together and better understand each other, ultimately bridging the difficult gap Vennochi pointed out to me today, when I checked my email. Maybe then, stories in the media and bloggers would be better and finally settle into roles that befit this new generation of news.


First, I probably should have mentioned one other thing Vennochi mentioned: the MSM has to deal with something that bloggers, largely, don't. Bloggers, including me, can be mean. Journalists and columnists are at a disadvantage - they're supposed to be unbiased (Howie Carr notwithstanding). From here on out, when it comes to dealing with the media, I'm going to try to be more constructive and less snarky. It pains me to say that, because I love the snark (and, indeed, the Globe has loved it too; when directed at politicians, I've been linked to Globe blogs multiple times when writing snarky posts about candidates), but the snark certainly will subvert any attempts at improving blogger-MSM relationships.

Second, the following only deals with the periphery of this post: My earlier subject title today, "Boston Globe: Laziest Article Ever" was, well, not accurate. If it would do any good to change it, I would, but the way is set up makes changing titles almost useless - all it would serve to do is break links. Lisa Wangsness wasn't lazy and, in even bothering to read the blogosphere at all, showed at least curiosity that should be applauded. Her piece was still wrong in at least one key way: two bloggers from one site doth not equal the entire blogosphere, even if they are two of the most well-read bloggers. However, it was a mischaracterization to call that lazy. Poor word choice on my part.


Charley on the MTA said...

Ryan -- absolutely with you on our dependence on the professional media. We really just want them to do a good job. It might be best to assume that someone's doing their job in good faith, and that it's just really damn hard to get exactly right, rather than assuming laziness or ill will when something doesn't come out right.

And I appreciate your thoughts on engaging the pro media as well. The papers are going through some serious shocks. Maybe it's an opportunity to get them (and us) to more meaningfully engage with each other, and the wider public -- i.e. get folks to feel invested in their local news outlets again.

Anyway, cool that Vennochi emailed you. We gotta keep the conversation going.

Anonymous said...

Vennochi may read your blog, but I guess the fellas over at the State House News Service don't from what they sent out in today's weekly roundup:

"The governor is racking up negative press at a much faster rate than the positive, and much faster than other newbie governors like Charlie Crist and Eliot Spitzer, and no press secretary or blogger is going to successfully press the case that the mainstream media's negativity is the real culprit. "

Bob said...

I do think the comment about Lisa's piece was unfair. A public comment is a public comment and there is no need for a reporter to make a separate call to get the writer to elaborate. Kudos to you for your forthright apology and correction. Everyone makes mistakes. The issue is what one does after one admits that one has made one. The only point I'd take issue with is your disavowal of snark. If you mean mean-spirited, amen; but if you mean mordantly sardonic, I'd say stick with it: wit and irony are part of what make the blogosphere fun.

Bob said...

By the way, please cross-post at BMG :-)

Ryan Adams said...

The thing is, Bob, that one man's snark is to another mean-spirited. I can remember poking fun at both Gabs and Reilly during the campaign - in complete jest and snark - and having some people throw conniptions about it. Was I being mean? I didn't think so, but clearly some did.

I actually had a comment on this post earlier - again, in jest - about Frank Phillips, essentially saying something like "Imagine calling Frank on the phone to ask him about the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke? Funny." To me, that was just snark, however I think it offended certain people who shall remain nameless.

It's always going to be a balancing act. I can say for certain that, if I write every day, it's only inevitable that snark *will* come out. However, if it'll mean that I can work together with some people in the media in fostering a better relationship between teh blogosphere and media by using a little less snark in terms of reporting, then I think it's worth it. At least for now, especially when I've been so critical as of late.

(Yet, on that note, I will have to agree to disagree on not following up with a quick interview - even if only over emails - when using comments on a blog. I'm not saying one shouldn't use blogs for quotes, I just think that there are certain things that people would elaborate on and deserve the opportunity for qualification so they're not misunderstood.)

Ryan Adams said...

ps i'll cross post this tomorrow. I want to fix it to reflect the first part of my update tonight.

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