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The role of the blogosphere

Rob Curley

VP, Washington Post.Newsweek Interactive

Rob Curley

Yes. But I also think that the dialogue that's happening under all of it is really important. We need to be cognizant to the idea that it's no longer a monologue; it's a dialogue, and we should be cognizant of when bloggers are talking about stories that we've written or making comments on it. That was one of the things that impressed me the most when I got to washingtonpost.com, was the integration of a company called Technorati.com that tracks what bloggers are writing about.

It's like a search engine for blogs. We have integration of Technorati on every story, so you can see when bloggers are blogging about this very story. That's fascinating to see that acknowledgement that people are turning to our journalism to have discussions. And it's not just standing on the top of Capitol Hill and us telling you what's important; it's us setting the discussion and letting people talk about it and encouraging that.

 
Len Downie

Editor, The Washington Post

Len Downie

Do you see more influence in terms of the Internet, bloggers, in your own coverage?

... The influence is twofold. One is they often come up with tips for us. There are a lot of intelligent people out there either running blogs or contributing to blogs, including experts in various fields, and they may find out something first. The first questions raised about the validity of the memo that CBS news had about President Bush's service in the National Guard was brought up by a blogger, some guy that was an expert on type. ...

The other way in which they have a relationship with the mainstream media is that most blogs link to us all the time. Most blogs are about the coverage in the mainstream media, so as a result they drive a lot of readers to our Web site.

But a lot of the criticism from bloggers originally came from conservative bloggers and conservative commentators on newspapers like The Washington Post, not from liberals.

No, not so much. ... On television, cable television and in opinion journals, the voices were stronger on the right. But ever since the blogosphere has been around, for what, two or three years now, the left and right have been equally strong and vocal. ...

 
Jeff Fager

Executive producer, 60 Minutes

Jeff Fager

Out there right now are all these bloggers or Web sites, and they're watching everything that comes out of the so-called mainstream media, particularly a place like 60 Minutes.

If we're doing our job well, I don't see why that's a problem; I really don't. We really work hard on being fair and accurate, and if we slip on that and someone catches us, what difference does it make where it comes from? ...

But the Internet has made it possible for that to happen almost instantaneously.

Well, fine. Not sure what difference it makes if you're doing your job well. ... And if it's all right, there's nothing to defend.

We had one interview with this guy who does the Daily Kos, [Markos Moulitsas]. You ever seen the Daily Kos?

No. No, no.

[He told us]: I don't want editors; I don't need to be a journalist; I don't need to go to journalism school; I don't need any standards. I can do it all myself. And he gets 400,000 page views a day.

Wow.

Doing it out of his bedroom.

Yeah, but it's entertainment. It's like [The Daily Show's] Jon Stewart. I mean, they do well mocking the news.

 
John Hinderaker

Blogger, Power Line

John Hinderaker

Karl Rove commented about blogs: "There is so much ugliness and viciousness and fundamental untruth that the blogosphere transmits. It's a vehicle for ugly rumors, scurrilous personal attacks, an avenue for the creation of urban legends which are deeply corrosive of the political system and people's faith in it."

... People need to exercise some common sense and apply it, apply some critical thinking to what they read. That's true whether it's The New York Times or whether you're watching CBS News or whether you're reading a Web site. Unfortunately there are some sites where you have the lowest common denominator that prevails, and people are drawn to the sites simply because there's a lot of irrationality; there's a lot of hate. People who are likeminded in that respect can gather there and reinforce one another's prejudices and nutty ideas.

I don't know what to do about that. I don't think there really is anything you can do about it given today's technologies. But I do think that not just proprietors of Web sites but consumers of Web sites as well as other forms in the news have got to exercise some critical intelligence in what they're doing.

[Former chairman of the Republican National Committee] Ken Mehlman told us that one of the positive things that comes from blogging is fact checking the mainstream media, being watchdogs of the watchdogs.

... One of the significant functions that's played by Web sites both on the right and on the left is fact checking the mainstream media. Of course the most famous example of that that we've been involved in at Power Line was Dan Rather's 60 Minutes II story about President Bush's National Guard service, where it turned out that the documents that that story was based on were fakes. Of course that's a very dramatic example of fact checking. Most examples are not that dramatic.

But it happens all the time that there are things repeated as fact in the media that are not in fact true, or even more commonly it happens that coverage of news stories is so one-sided that it creates a misleading impression. What's important is to fill in both sides of the story or multiple sides of the story. The coverage of the Iraq war has been in that category. I think it's been very one-sided.

One of the things that we've tried to do as a corrective is to put out more information, for example, from soldiers in the field. There are many military personnel who read Power Line. They send us e-mails; they tell us how they think things are going, what they're doing. We put a lot of that kind of information out in front of the public. ...

 
Jeff Jarvis

Blogger, BuzzMachine

Jeff Jarvis

We interviewed [The New Yorker's] Nick Lemann. He says, I don't have anything against bloggers, ... but there is a peculiar role for reporting in our society, because it's reliable, has standards and accuracy. You don't differ with that, do you?

Not in full. I think it's a red herring to pit this war of mainstream media versus bloggers. We're all in this together. We want a better-informed society. So the question is, how do we get there? We have new ways to get there. So it's not just the belief that journalists are the only ones who have trust and reliability.

In fact, the people correct us, and if we're good about our job, then we say thank you. Dan Rather didn't say thank you. Dan Rather waited 11 days after ... his big story on 60 Minutes [was] found to be questionable to say anything. Recently, when there were photographs [of Israeli attacks] in Beirut that were seen to be faked by a Reuters [freelance] photographer [Adnan Hajj], Reuters immediately came out and pulled those photos and thanked the bloggers for finding out that they'd been faked. ...

What has the blogging universe added to the world of journalism? Is there any particular story that it's broken, that it's done that you're proud of?

The poster-boy example in the blog world is [Talking Points Memo's] Josh Marshall and other bloggers staying on the story of [Sen.] Trent Lott praising [the 1948 presidential pro-segregation campaign of Sen.] Strom Thurmond. He lost his job [as majority leader], though he's now back. ...

But I don't think it's just about reporting one's story. It's also about setting the agenda. It's also about keeping stories alive and telling mainstream [media] what they ought to be doing. Three years ago, reporters I knew wouldn't admit or wouldn't read blogs. Now, they all read blogs, and most of them write blogs, too. And they find themselves in linked conversations. And you know what? It's good for their stories; it's good for their journalism. ...

I just blogged this morning that ... Huffington Post blog is hiring editors now, an editor from Newsweek and The New York Times. The political editor and a top correspondent of The Washington Post just left The Washington Post to go online. Bloggers are reporting; newspapers are blogging. The lines are going to blur, so I think it's a false narrative to say that there is a war between bloggers and mainstream media. ...

Sounds like Jayson Blair [the New York Times reporter discovered to have fabricated numerous stories] could be a blogger and that would be OK with you.

Jayson Blair would have gotten caught a lot faster, I think, just as Dan Rather was caught faster by the bloggers than he was by the ... system of CBS News.

Jayson Blair was up there on The New York Times Web site with his articles for years; nobody said anything in blogging. It took another reporter who was there at the scene who wrote copy that turned out was plagiarized to catch him, not a blogger. ... Newspapers self-correct.

Oh, but they take a long time. When was the last time you saw a correction on a TV show? It takes forever to get a correction there. I get corrected like that in my blog, and if I don't respond to that correction, act on it, my credibility descends immediately. People will link to me and say, "See, he doesn't care about the facts."

 
Scott Johnson

Blogger, Power Line

Scott Johnson

Has the mainstream media improved at all over this scrutiny?

The mainstream media are aware of folks like us out there looking over their shoulders, who may be able to embarrass them, call them to account, ask them to answer questions that if they don't would lead to a silence that would speak for itself in a way that wasn't the case in years past. There is slightly more of a dialogue that has the possibility of being constructive. We've had constructive encounters via the Internet with reporters and editors. But in reading the newspapers, which I do, like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, I'm struck by how little has changed. ...

 
Bill Keller

Editor, The New York Times

Bill Keller

I'm not saying that Ben Bradlee or Abe Rosenthal were universally acknowledged in the country as icons of authority, but they didn't have 1,000 blogs nipping at their heels and second-guessing everything they did. ...

We interviewed Jeff Jarvis, for instance, or some of the people who are outspoken proponents of the Internet. And they say the old model is obsolete, wastes money. There's now millions of journalists out there. You're not taking advantage of all those citizen journalists or networkers, as he would put it.

Jeff and I have talked about this. I always tease him by telling him I prefer to call them vigilante journalists. If your definition of journalists includes people who riff on the news, who give you their opinions about things, then yes, there are millions of journalists out there, and that's a good thing. If your definition of journalists is people who actually go out and report things, who bring some authority to a subject, then there are not millions of citizen journalists. ...

Some blogs are pockets of expertise like the one that Dan Rather ran afoul of: somebody who had expertise in typewriter fonts. Some blogs are very, very smart analysts of events. Some are actual witnesses; there are some good bloggers in Iraq, for example, both American military and Iraqis. But most of them are recyclers. They riff on the news, and they tell you what they think of it. Those so-called citizen journalists would be out of business without us, because we supply them with their raw material. ...

 
Nicholas Kristof

Columnist, The New York Times

Nicholas Kristof

Has the rest of the blogosphere affected your reporting or how you do your job?

I think that we in journalism are more accountable today because of the blogosphere than we were 10 years ago. When I started out at the Times 22 years ago, we could write something stupid or mistaken and we wouldn't necessarily hear back, but now we hear back as soon as things go up. The blogosphere is a genuine watchdog on how we cover things. It's often a kind of crazed and demented watchdog, and there are lots of barking in different directions, so it's hard to figure out how to manage it, but that is useful. It's also, I think, there to stay. Even if we don't like it, I think we're going to have to get used to it.

Those who have been talking about liberal bias in the media feel like there was a final kind of ultimate proof of that in what was termed "Rathergate" in the 2004 elections, about the president's National Guard record. How do you react to the impact that's had on journalism?

I think that press coverage of the Bush administration has had the unfortunate result of confirming every prejudice that people have about liberal bias, because there is an overlap of two distinct things that tend to get muddled together.

One is that frankly, there is to some degree within a lot of the mainstream media some genuine liberal bias. I think more reporters vote Democratic in the biggest papers than vote Republican. On the other hand, what is much more important is a sort of bias of antagonism, if you will; an effort to cover very aggressively government officials. In this case you have government officials who are conservative Republicans, and therefore, when you have that kind of tension and antagonism, then a lot of people, and particularly Republicans, see that as proof of liberal bias.

I genuinely think there is a certain amount of liberal bias. But I think that most of what is going on -- and indeed what was going on in the Dan Rather case, for example, which is Exhibit A for a lot of people -- had more to do with very aggressive coverage of the ruling establishment than with political biases.

You've called for more openness and transparency in the media. Why? What do you mean by that?

I think we in the media have to be much more attentive to how we're regarded by the public. I think we can address that in a number of ways, and one is transparency -- anything that can chip away at this perception that we're these arrogant elitists who don't care about the public.

My own efforts have been starting a blog that tries to address reader criticisms, how I come to do things, and trying to engage the public, including the people who disagree with me, and trying to respond to some e-mails. I can't say it's been terribly successful. There are times when you feel you're making a little bit of progress. It's really an uphill struggle.

 
Josh Marshall

Blogger, Talking Points Memo

Josh Marshall

There are some people who think that the conservative bloggers, conservative critique and undermining of the press, combined now with the liberal bloggers and the undermining of the credibility of what you call as well the elite press, is basically wiping out professional journalism. It's putting it under great stress in this country.

It is putting it under a lot of stress, and I think some of that critique is damaging. On the whole, though, it's positive. Again, for the reason I said earlier, that what we've had before is ferocious critique all on one side, I think that ferocious critique on both sides is better than ferocious critique only on one side. ...

I think that the long-term effect [on the press] will be positive. ... My critique is trying to get people to practice better journalism. And I think the people who are trying to delegitimize journalism altogether want a world of information in this country where ... the people who have power control the information. I think that's why they want to undermine journalism.

 
Mark McKinnon

Former media adviser to President Bush

Mark McKinnon

And you can spin it, too, via the Internet and blogs.

Well, it goes both ways. There are thousands and thousands of people spinning it back the other way. You've got the blogosphere, and you've got others who are putting their own spin on what the administration is saying. There is just as much pushback on the administration as there is on the administration pushing its news out. It's a hurricane of information and people trying to filter it both ways. ...

... Yeah, but you can have, for instance, your own bloggers, your own paid bloggers in a campaign, right?

Yeah, sure. That's just another way of getting information out.

But you don't label it as advertising as you would before or say that this is a paid political ad. You can just simply put it on the Internet without any connections to where it came from.

Well, I think consumers know if they're reading a blog that they understand that that's the blogger's opinion. ...

But do you remember another administration paying someone and getting them credentials into a news conference to ask questions?

It's apples to oranges. It's a different time. It's a different world. It's a different universe. Listen, I don't condone that. I think that was a mistake, and others have acknowledged that was a mistake. But the point is that this administration, like every other administration, has a message. They try and get it out, and they use whatever channels are available to them. In 2006, there are thousands of more channels available to this president than there were to presidents previously, so this administration picks and chooses the channels with which to communicate, which any president would do. ...

 
Markos Moulitsas

Blogger, Daily Kos

Markos Moulitsas

Now, the media establishment, it goes back and forth. Some people see us as an ally; some people see us as the enemy. I generally see the media as allies. I don't want to do the reporting. I was a reporter in a previous life, and it's not something that I hated, but it's not something that I would want to do again. I need the media to do its job and provide the raw data, the raw information that then we can use to decide what's the best course for our country as we analyze what is the best policy to solve issue XYZ. To solve a problem you need to have good information, and that's what we depend on the media to provide.

Our problem on the left with the media is when they don't do their job right; when they think that they're stenographers for the White House; when they just repeat mindless spin without actually providing context, without providing fact checking. ... Now, on the right, they want to destroy the media, because they're trying to build an alternate reality that matches their ideology. ... If the media reports the truth unspun, that's a problem for them, so they want to destroy the traditional media. They want more Fox News, and they want less real reporting. ...

[The Colbert Report's] Stephen Colbert is sort of a hero on our side of the aisle because not so much [for] his mockery and satire of Republicans, but of the media itself. I know the media does not like him. At the White House [Correspondents' Association] dinner this year, his standup at that dinner bombed terribly in the room, but it was an absolute hit outside of the press, outside of the media world. ...

So this resonates with people. The need and the desire for a press that acts like a check on government, that acts like it's working in the public interest, as opposed to just trying to ingratiate themselves with the people in power and get invited to the right cocktail parties. There's a hunger for this kind of reformation of the media outside of Washington, D.C., and outside of the New York media establishment. It's a big country, and I don't think New York and D.C. realizes it. ...

Where do you get your news?

It's mostly newspapers, actually, and all of it online. I don't receive a paper product. ... There's a lot of original reporting, and I have a lot of sources now that will e-mail me tips. But mostly -- and this is the beauty of what I'm doing -- is that we're able to take the good work of journalists all over the country, not just in The New York Times and Washington Post that used to dominate the media discussion, but anywhere. So you can have tiny little papers in Wisconsin or Montana or Idaho, and if they're producing good information, we're going to highlight that.

That really changes things, because now every story is potentially a national story. That's why I think a lot of journalists actually like the blogs, because they like the thought that, well, I can get beyond my paper's small readership and truly have a national impact. That motivates them to promote their stuff to bloggers and to get the word out in a way that wasn't possible before. So yeah, a lot of journalists I think see us as competition and are hostile, but a lot of them actually see us as allies and as a way to actually increase the influence of what they write.

 
Jay Rosen

Blogger; Professor, New York University

Jay Rosen

Now, the interesting part was the chance of your average young [ABC] producer not knowing very much about the 1948 presidential campaign and therefore not really hearing much in what Trent Lott [said], those chances were pretty high. But the chances of the blog world, interconnected the way it is, not knowing that relevant background -- zero. So the blog system was actually more likely to catch the significance of what Lott said than an individual producer or a reporter would be.

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posted feb. 13, 2007; last updated feb. 27, 2007

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