Don't read those bloggers... they're unclean!

Aug 20 2007 Published by under [Politics]

Steve Benen at The Carpetbagger Report notes that, over the weekend, Michael Skube, a professor of journalism at Elon University, wrote an op-ed in the LA Times blasting blogs:

There was something appealing about this argument -- one that no blogger would reject -- when Lasch advanced italmost two decades ago. But now we have the opportunity to witness it in practice, thanks to the blogosphere, and the results are less than satisfying. One gets the uneasy sense that the blogosphere is a potpourri of opinion and little more. The opinions are occasionally informed, often tiresomely cranky and never in doubt. Skepticism, restraint, a willingness to suspect judgment and to put oneself in the background -- these would not seem to be a blogger's trademarks.

But they are, more often than not, trademarks of the kind of journalism that makes a difference. And if there is anything bloggers want more than an audience, it's knowing they are making a difference in politics. They are, to give them their due, changing what is euphemistically called the national "conversation." But what is the nature of that change? Does it deepen our understanding? Does it broaden our perspective?

The answer, according to Skube, seems to be 'no'. This seems to be the prevailing opinion of the 'elite' in journalism and, sadly, in academia: bloggers aren't real journalists, they're too rude and too partisan to have any integrity, they don't provide any deeper understanding of an issue.

Numerous bloggers have already commented numerous times on how simplistic this view is; in the specific case of Skube, it has been noted by Josh Marshall that the esteemed professor ironically didn't even fact check his own piece. The thing that really gets me about articles such as this one is the defensiveness of the authors and their inability to look inward at what 'real journalists' are doing.

For your entertainment, below are the headlines I grabbed off CNN's front page when I decided to write this post:

  • Dean aims at Yucatan
  • Bomb kills southern Iraqi governor
  • Body parts pulled from bomb rubble by hand
  • Illegal immigrant arrested after year in church
  • Miners' families blast rescue efforts
  • Vick could be facing more charges
  • Mudslides, floods sweep people, cows away
  • Sisters hurt when parasail tether breaks
  • 11 hurt at Tom Cruise film shoot
  • Jetliner burns on Okinawa; all 165 survive
  • Man's journey to faith leads to FBI
  • Police: Murder plot involved rattlesnakes
  • Bears eat man at beer festival
  • Ticker: Rove's leak denial called 'nonsense'

Okay, of all these 14 'important' news stories, we have a story recounting gory details of the aftermath of a bombing, a story about one illegal immigrant, a sports story about Vick, a story about two sisters getting hurt parasailing, injuries on a Tom Cruise movie set, a jet fire on Okinawa in which everyone survives, a story of a man's faith, a rattlesnake murder plot, and a story about bears eating a man (which Colbert will no doubt cover later this week). That's 9 stories, count 'em, 9, out of 14 which provide me no useful information whatsoever. Let's compare with a comparable amount of stories from TCR:

  • Skube slips in slamming scribes
  • The Master of Malice, the Sultan of Smear, the Captain of Corruption…
  • I watch debates, so you don’t have to — Part XII
  • Dropping the pretense
  • ‘A flawed, American-centered framework’
  • The gift that keeps on taking
  • Sunday Discussion Group
  • Funny how times change
  • ‘You’re going to look super in a burka’
  • The dog and pony shows
  • Let’s define ‘critic’
  • The wrong answer on single-payer healthcare

All of these are political analysis, media analysis, and discussions. In terms of the density of useful information, TCR wins hands down.

There is a point to be made that most bloggers don't go out and report on stories themselves; they just provide 'analysis' (though this is quickly changing: Firedoglake provided the best coverage of the Scooter Libby trial anywhere, and The Huffington Post has dedicated reporters working for it). But this 'analysis' is exactly what is missing in most major media outlets. To be fair, I don't blame the individual journalists for the quality of CNN (and the other networks) news coverage. It seems to me that the content is being driven by profit, which puts the blame directly in the upper management's hands.

The 'real journalists' out there who feel that blogs are somehow uncouth or unprofessional or too partisan might want to straighten out their own outlets first. Glass houses, and all.

3 responses so far

  • The Girlfriend says:

    I read Skube's article and while he is discounting bloggers ability to have the time and patience and access to get all the "facts" of a story he is still nailing today's traditional journalists for their failure to do exactly that. Obviously there is a need for the kind of information that bloggers present otherwise, no one would read them. I doubt that they exist solely for the purpose of allowing people to rant and rave about their perceived injustices or the government's shortcomings. I feel like I have a much clearer understanding of the story after having read about it at one of the blogs I frequent. Regardless though, journalists and their editors need to take heed - we are tired of having our news delivered to us in sound bites and the big stories glossed over. If I never heard another thing about Britney, Lindsey or Paris, I would be thrilled.

  • skullsinthestars says:

    The Girlfriend wrote: "I read Skube’s article and while he is discounting bloggers ability to have the time and patience and access to get all the “facts” of a story he is still nailing today’s traditional journalists for their failure to do exactly that."

    I guess I got set off by the fact that the article sounds (1) very elitist, (2) ignorant of the nature of the blogosphere and (3) completely non-constructive. There's no real advice I can see for the blogosphere or for regular journalists; my feeling is that the article says, "Sure, we're not doing a great job as journalists, but those bloggers should stay in their place."

  • The Girlfriend says:

    Upon another reading, he is not so critical of today's journalists - I retract that statement. I don't disagree with your opinion of his article. He obviously has a very skewed perception of bloggers. I'm sure there is the group out there that writes things with absolutely no basis in any factual information - strictly their opinion. Where I do agree with him though is that the bloggers don't usually present their information without some level of personal bias - including snarky comments or leading statements.