I was invited to be on The Takeaway this morning, a New York-based national talk show with fabled interviewer John Hockenberry. On Sunday, the show’s producer called me to make sure I wasn’t a mumbling idiot and, after I passed her test, she asked me the question I’ve come to dread: “What is your position at Minnesota Public Radio and how do we identify you?” That’s the point at which I became a mumbling idiot.
“That’s a good question,” I stammered, employing the age-old method of stalling while hoping a good answer reveals itself. “We’ve never been able to come up with a good description.”
I lied, of course. The bosses came up with a good description when we started News Cut almost a year ago. News Cut is a blog. Therefore, I am a bl….blo….blog…”blogger.”
Why do I hate this word so? And what are the alternatives?
When we started News Cut, we knew our biggest skeptics would be people in my own newsroom who have become accustomed to equating a blog with a rumor-spewing news booyah. I tried other words. People laughed at “news essayist.”
While I acknowledge the wealth of good information on the blogs (I’ve been blogging in one fashion or another since 1999), “blogosphere” and “blogger” may never rid themselves of their connotation in the hallowed ground of mainstream media, and not without reason.
Last week, a right-wing blogger in Minnesota, armed with all the research Google can provide, said I have “a credibility problem and am an embarrassment to journalism,” based on a blog item in the St. Cloud Times (based on an 18-month-old Minnesota Fantasy Legislature post), and a 2006 blog post from a Republican mouthpiece who was reeling that I discovered the Republican Party had sent out CDs that surreptitiously mined some personal data on peoples’ computers and had failed to properly secure the data it mined.
Thirteen hours after making the proclamation, the right-wing blogger sent me an e-mail asking for the facts. “Why didn’t you do that before you wrote your story?” I asked. “I couldn’t find your e-mail address,” he said. Well, then.
During the Democratic National Convention, I wrote that I’d heard an unusual number of obscenities shouted by Denver drivers in my short time there. A Minnesota blogger headlined his blog post with “Bob Collins thinks Denver is full of ********!” Asked to explain the leap, the blogger offered up the journalistic equivalent of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, and suggested his conclusion was “close enough.” Alrighty.
This, of course, is precisely why mainstream media newsies have had an arm’s-length attitude toward bloggers, and have privately voiced concern that news organizations with reputations would allow its staff to blog.
Bloggers, on the other hand, have suggested that while there is an abundance of affronts to good journalism outside the mainstream media blogs, people will be able to decide for themselves and will learn which bloggers to trust. After “printing” a falsehood, a blog — or its cousin, the social networking site — will soon prove its worth at flagging inaccuracy before it becomes damaging, they insist.
It would be a better theory, if there were any significant evidence of it being true.
Today’s New York Times carries several stories that prove the claim’s worthlessness. In “Spinning a Web of Lies at Digital Speed,” writer Noam Cohen highlighted several despicable examples. Matt Drudge “reporting” that Oprah Winfrey refused to invite Sarah Palin on her show and Steve Jobs’ “heart attack.” Though eventually disproven, both falsehoods nonetheless gained traction. Apple’s shares, for a time, tanked
“With its oodles of information, the Internet is laden with falsehoods, but, in fact, these recent cases show how critical are amplifying sites like Drudge or Google News or Digg to getting reports from the backwoods to the public,” Cohen wrote.
Just ask Andy Martin, described in a front-page New York Times article today as “The man behind the whispers about Obama.” He’s the man who created the press release that Barack Obama is a Muslim who has concealed his religion, then depended on FreeRepublic.com to “print” it, and reap the benefit of thousands of other blogs to copy it and spread the rumor.
The woman in Lakeville last Friday who may have sunk the McCain campaign in Minnesota by declaring to an embarrassed McCain that she didn’t like Obama “because he’s an Arab” (He’s not, but so what if he were?) never read, or wasn’t inclined to believe, the subsequent disproving of the rumor in the blogosphere.
Last week, as rumors of a sweetheart deal between a businessman and Norm Coleman persisted, a frustrated Coleman told a reporter, “I’m not going to comment on an anonymous allegation posted by someone,” adding for good measure, “on a blog.” Later in the week, after a disastrous news conference by one campaign official, Coleman met with reporters. But his handlers prescreened those who tried to attend. TV, radio, and dead-tree reporters were allowed in. Bloggers were left in the lobby, wondering what it is the Coleman campaign doesn’t get about the legitimacy of the blogosphere.
On Sunday, the New York radio producers, waited for an answer. “Just call me a reporter,” I said desperately.
I should’ve gone with “news booyahist.”
Booyahing will be a little light today. I’m taking care of my son who had some surgery today. I’ll “news booyah” as time allows.