Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Best Thing Since the First Amendment

Blogs are the best thing to happen to journalism since the First Amendment

The First Amendment set journalist free. It protected them. An early American journalist could write what they wished and didn’t have to worry about the king’s men coming and throwing them in the dungeon. It protected them from a powerful government or business interest that wanted to control information as well as everything else.

When the founding fathers stuck the free press clause in the first of amendments to the new constitution, they were thinking more of an individual or a small group working laboriously to produce a broadside that would be plastered on some wall – most likely the one outside the building in which they were printing because they didn’t have the means to publish it nationwide. They were thinking of pamphleteers like Thomas Paine.

They certainly had no notion of an organization large enough to christen itself the Fourth Estate. They weren’t thinking of a organization as large as any government or any business they could think of. And yet, the MSM is covered by the First Amendment just like the little guy for which it was intended. When the founding fathers moved to constitutionalize a free press, they meant it more for the spirit of the bloggers than some conglomerate now know as MSM.

A. J. Liebling said in 1960, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." This admonition is no longer true. With the internet and blogs, everyone has a free press. The owners of the old press and their employees, the MSM, have to deal with this news event in their own backyard.

The MSM is what most people think of when they think of freedom of the press, and they are the ones who have the high-powered lawyers to insure that the First Amendment applies to them. But if the government can't regulate the press, who or what can? The MSM has tried to regulate itself with ombudsmen, public or people's editors, media critics and courses in ethics in journalism in college. Members of the MSM have publications on policy and practice such as the AP Stylebook.

And there is the letters to the editor which has been around for some time. Blogs are like letters to the editor. Only, instead of sitting in some MSM mailroom and being read by a select few in which some will be published in the editorial page, these letters are all posted on the internet for all to read. It would seem they have more impact this way than stacking up back in some MSM mailroom.

Nothing has had the impact on MSM and journalism like the blogs. This reaction is a phenomenon. Remember these times, so you can tell it to your grandchildren. You were there. You saw it happen. Professional journalists don’t know what to think; they don’t know what to do. A paradigm shift has occurred on their watch. The MSM are starting blogs; the journalists are blogging; and the quality of journalism is improving as it has never improved since the First Amendment set it free.

Not since the rise of concept of objective reporting of news to push out yellow journalism or advocacy journalism during the early part of the previous century has journalism seen such an assault on it very foundations. This struggle over what is news and what gets readership and ratings continues even today as witnessed by the blogstorm over the MSM's fascination with missing white girls.

I saw an interesting comment about this year's annual meeting of the Daily Kos bloggers in Las Vegas at Slate. To paraphrase John Dickerson: Left wing bloggers want the MSM to do the job it is supposed to do; right wing bloggers want to do away with the MSM entirely or at least convert it to a conservative point of view like propaganda or Fox News. (The statement after the conjunction is mine.)

Dickerson wonders if the MSM will still be enthralled with bloggers if the liberal bloggers the likes of Daily Kos will are not able to deliver come November. While this argument has merit, it reinforces the liberal bloggers' complaint of the MSM's flavor of the month approach to reporting the news, whether the Kos nation may (or may not) be able to win a majority in either house of Congress misses the point. Bloggers are going to be in your face no matter what, or until the loss of net neutrality returns us to Liebling's world.

How quaint: that during this time of visualization, television, and see it now, the age-old practice of print is having a comeback. Stay tuned.
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree-- I guess we're expecting too much for all journalists to see real freedom of press going on in blogs, because it is a danger to their jobs.

But then you see the smart ones like Rosen and Alterman and Froomkin quickly figured how that the new frontier was worth exploring-- and they figured out how to do it, links, actual evidence to prove their points, follow-ups, quick updates and corrections, comments, chats....

Blogging doesn't have to be a rival to journalism, but journalists can't go on being lazy if they want to compete.


9/06/2006 11:12 PM  

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