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October 15, 2010

The emerging power of new media and blogs

The new media on the internet provides a way to break free of the blinkered view that the traditional media provides. What the new media offers is a vast array of informed people who are willing to do the meticulous and painstaking work to get to the truth. The traditional media cannot or will not do this either because they want to go with the superficial and sensational in their search for ratings or because they are laying off their investigative reporters or because they do not want to offend powerful interests, because they themselves are part of the corporate elite

This year, investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill received the second annual Izzy Award, named after the legendary investigative reporter I. F. "Izzy" Stone, and given for outstanding achievement in independent media. The first winners were Amy Goodman of Democracy Now and Glenn Greenwald. In an interview, Scahill talks about the potential of the new alternative media made possible by the internet.

I believe that the way independent journalists are most effectively able to conduct their work is by maintaining their independence from the powerful. I don't hob-nob with the powerful. I don't count among my friends executives or other powerful people. I think it's important for independent journalists to not be beholden to any special interests whatsoever.

I think we're at a moment where we have a lot of really good independent journalism that's being produced by bloggers and independent journalists, but we also need to not go far away from that tradition of peer review, editing and fact-checking.

We live in a very exciting time in independent media. Corporate journalists are less powerful now than they were 10 years ago, but their owners are much more powerful. Still, the journalists themselves -- they're no longer these sort of regal kings on a hill. Peggy Noonan represents a dying generation of people that pontificate from a golden palace somewhere, hoping the poor will never get through her gates.

The poor are now journalists around the world. The question is: how do we fund it? How do we keep it viable? How do we keep it credible? And that is our challenge right now.

Glenn Greenwald has a nice piece on the value of blogs that was displayed when the traditional media misrepresented Sonia Sotomayor when she was nominated to the US Supreme Court. The media used an original blog report as the source to present a distorted picture of her and it was the blogs that fought back to correct the record.

Another case where blogs forced a reporter to retract was when New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin indulged in some gratuitous union bashing in a TV interview, suggesting that unionized companies were all doomed to failure. The counter-examples came thick and fast and quick on the blogs, forcing him to recant. He is unlikely to make that mistake again. This kind of accountability and correction is unlikely to have happened in the pre-internet, pre-blog days.

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Comments

I just wanted to add that this is why net neutrality is a very, very important issue. We must not allow big corporations to neuter the potential of the Internet to democratize political information and commentary. A lot is at stake.

Posted by Steve LaBonne on October 15, 2010 09:47 AM

Excellent point, Steve.

Every candidate for political office should be asked how he stands on net neutrality. But how often do we see this mentioned on the large, glossy postcards filling our mailboxes right now? And how many Republican and Tea Party candidates, our putative defenders of individual liberty, are on the side of the telecom giants here? (For one example, see this Huffington Post article.)

As John Stewart sarcastically noted when he interviewed Eric Cantor (House Republican Whip) the other day, all we hear from them is the tired old refrain, "Liberty and freedom, blah, blah, blah." The poor saps buying into this message simply have no clue that this refers to liberty and freedom for big business. Or, even more disturbingly, they do realize that and are o.k. with it. They will get the government they deserve.

Posted by Richard Frost on October 15, 2010 10:28 AM

I completely agree with you Mano, when you say that traditional media is driven by ratings, their own interests and their alliances with the elite. I also quite agree that independent blogging gives way to more accurate and authentic information being put out in front of the audience and public.

But don't you think everything has a good and a bad? Who's to say some of these journalist bloggers won't get so famous and that they will quite literally have the power to make or break the reputation of an individual or an organization? can we assume none of them will get greedy once in a while? online brand names will develop around such popular bloggers and they may then have the power sway public view in a way that it protects their interests.

I belong to the internet marketing community and this sort of thing is very common there. Now im not saying it WILL happen but do you not think it is a possibility? It will be bad media all over again, only it will be a online this time?

Posted by Andy G Sneak on October 15, 2010 10:56 AM

Andy,

Yes, there is always that danger. The difference is that journalist bloggers have grown up in a culture where they have a much closer relationship with their readers and are more responsive to them. So while the risk is there, it is a little less.

The previous generation, which saw the emergence of a professional journalist class, saw themselves as above the readers, as gatekeepers. Even now, many respond with anger when their mistakes are pointed out.

Interestingly, an even earlier generation of journalists was more responsive to ordinary people because they were from working class backgrounds and did not see themselves as belonging to the same class as the politicians and business leaders and other elites, the way that the current crop does.

The evolution of journalism is a fascinating topic and I am hoping that someone who sees its class basis as an important factor in how it operates will undertake a comprehensive study.

Posted by Mano on October 15, 2010 11:19 AM

I agree the risk is less. But I do think that as this trend develops and more prominent bloggers emerge, I feel that it is almost certain that some people will go rouge and give in to the urges of personal gain.

Posted by Andy on October 15, 2010 11:32 AM

The emerging power of the new media and blogs has implications in all spheres and interest groups of the internet. As Andy commented, when you have a bunch of disciples you can go make war. Let us be under no illusion, any power tool will always be abused, even the big G does it and will so increasingly without the vast majority woefully unawares.

Posted by Dewald De Bruyn on October 15, 2010 12:55 PM

Mano,

The in-the-bed journalists are as a rule the "national/international" big city journalists. They tend to be writers rather than reporters and though they travel such like, they can't help but reveal some contempt for their readers and the very idea that you need evidence to form any sort of conclusion. And yes they do talk down to their readers. in contrast the city newspaper types, the reporters - and some writers live and work in the communities they their readers live in and are very responsive to their readers. Take our own Plain Dealer. Thomas Suddes has reported for years on the State House without ever taking a partisan stance. Our other columnists, are responsive, even the loathsome fact-fudging Kevin O'Brien. With all the hidden string pulling that happens behind the scenes at the PD, most of it manages to come out into the open. As for other non-PD reporters in Cleveland, Roldo Bartimole formerly of the "Free Times" is a national treasure.

Posted by kuraL on October 15, 2010 02:12 PM