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A few thoughts about the media

I don't think there's too much disagreement among LJ'ers and other bloggers that the TV network news and major newspapers (now being referred to as MSM or even "legacy media") are dishonest and biased WRT what they cover and how they cover it. We can disagree about which way the bias cuts, and both sides can point to different studies that claim to show "liberal" or "conservative" bias in the MSM. Not too many of us claim that the bias isn't there, though.

So when something like Rathergate comes along, you get bloggers railing against the MSM and predicting the imminent downfall of the network news and major newspapers, which IMAO is just dumb. While the TV news programs have been steadily losing eyeballs, first to cable outlets like CNN and later to Fox News, they probably aren't going away for a while because the networks don't want to lose their shot at trying to homogenize the political culture of the country, and the news programs are the best way for them to try and shape that culture by framing the debate.

The only problem with that is that it's essentially an elitist, aristocratic view of things: only the professional journalists and the pundits know what's important and deserving of discussion? That's just not going to sell outside the Northeast Corridor and LA, and it probably won't sell too well there either. This is part of the reason you see bloggers like Glenn Reynolds playing an increasing role in pubilc debate: they are opening up the discussion of what's news and what isn't. In a way, it's similar to the effect Rush Limbaugh had on the political debate when he first came on the national scene. You didn't have to just read the Washington Post or New York Times and mutter under your breath any more - here was somebody who read those papers and mocked them for their obvious biases and prejudices. The same thing is now happening in hundreds, thousands of homes around the world as people seize on blogging software and the Internet to make their voices heard. Probably the best recent examples of this democratization of the news cycle are the Swift Boat Vets' accusations against John Kerry, which were studiously ignored by MSM until the pressure from talk radio and the blogs forced them to do stories on the accusations, and the attempted revival of the "Bush was AWOL:" meme, which is in the process of blowing up in CBS' corporate face and has already been renamed "Rathergate".

There's a window of opportunity here for the papers that play second fiddle to the big names in their media markets: the Boston Herald-American, the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, and the Washington Times. They can steal a march on their bigger competitors and harvest the best writers, researchers and just plain newshounds from the local blogging community and start beating the daylights out of their better-known competitors. The Blogosphere has a lot of people who can write as well as (and in some cases a lot better than) the j-school graduates beavering away at becoming the next Woodward & Bernstein.

To borrow an analogy from sports, it's time for the newspapers to realize that instead of recruiting reporters straight from college who know nothing except how to do journalism, perhaps they's be better off allowing the blogosphere to work as a sort of minor league system, in which talent can develop (or stagnate) on its way to the Big Leagues. Many bloggers will stick to doing blogs as a part-time hobby, and they'll remain valuable as fact-checkers and counterweights to the regional newspapers' ability to frame debate, but the bloggers who go into reporting full time will be a great asset to the papers they're working for.

Unlike some bloggers, I don't see blogs ever replacing the MSM. I do see bloggers making the mainstream a lot wider than the narrow river it is right now.