A blogger by any other name

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.

  • http://erikhare.wordpress.com/ Erik Hare

    You’re a reporter.

    The problem with the many, many examples of bad behavior is that it’s all second-hand stuff. “Bob said …” kinds of things. And it’s all reported as cold, hard facts.

    These are people who are pretending to be reporters in the newsy sense of the word. If they were more honest and strove to be nothing more than Citizen Journalists, reporters of what they have seen happen in front of them, they’d be way better off.

    It’s the pretension that’s the problem. You give it to us straight, which is what jounalism has to be about. It’s always, “This is what I saw happen.” Those other guys? They make us all look bad.

    Raw opinion is one thing. Someone saying, “I think Bob is a jerkface because he said …” is also better off because everyone’s entitled to their opinion. The trouble comes in when the second-hand observation is asserted as fact.

    Bloggers have a real problem, but only because they pretend to be something they aren’t. They’re pretending to be you. They’re just jealous, is all. Screw ‘em all.

  • Greg

    The other thing that’s missing in today’s blog world is the old-fashioned hierarchy of a newsroom. An editor sitting behind a big desk in the corner office, saying “Sources, kid, I need sources. Don’t bring me a story if you can’t confirm the facts first. Check it, then check it again!”

    Today, it’s super-easy to click “Submit” and that’s it, the story’s out there in black & white. And if it’s out there in black & white, then it must be true.

  • Bob Moffitt

    “Why do I hate this word so?”

    Because you’re an old crumedgeon, that’s why. You can’t say “blogger” and not think of one of those young whippersnapers like Chuck Olsen and his ilk.

    BTW, I’m an old crumedgen, too. Nothing wrong this that.

  • http://kadetcomm.wordpress.com Ken Kadet

    In following your posts over time, you seem to be a reporter in the best sense of the word. You get out and talk to people rather than just about them. You report.

    The old news model is changing, and the news room will evolve, but I agree with Greg — there is a place in the world for a professional news organization with the the attendant journalistic standards and ethics… regardless of the media you use to share the news.

  • Bob Collins

    I would not for a second put Chuck Olsen in the category of people I described above. Those guys are out all the time talking to people and telling their stories.

    I don’t believe it’s a mainstream vs. blogger issue. I think it’s that the term “blogger” has outlived its usefulness and now is seen as a BAD thing, that casts disrepute on good bloggers.

    Speaking of whippersnappers, though, one story from the inside: A couple of weeks ago, I needed the audio of a conference call a candidate held. A reporter didn’t want to give it to me because he was afraid I’d take it out of context. “I don’t do op-ed,” he said. Ouch.

    I gave a talk show a (good natured) hard time last week because I thought discussions about the economic meltdown were too elitist and didn’t deal with “real people’s” worries. “Put it on your blog,” the host said, pronouncing “blog” the way Sen. Coleman did. I laughed. But, secretly, I cried myself to sleep that night.

  • http://john.hoffoss.com John T. Hoffoss

    You’re a reporter and a blogger. The term blogger is being vilified more and more because the old-school media folk like you are afraid of being associated with that evil, lying, prototypical blogger who makes stuff up in his mother’s basement. And you do yourself and the other legit blogging journalists a good amount of disrespect with that attitude.

    You may be a curmudgeon and approach independent media extremely apprehensively, but you’re still a journalist and you’re putting your name out there in bold with every story you publish. So does independent media like those at MinnPost, The UpTake and MN Indy. Folks in your situation are the ones that can improve reporting for all by helping lend credibility to these organizations without fear of the term blogger. I see no reason for you to fear association with some idiot who starts making stuff up. Those bloggers lose all credibility after such an event, if they had any to begin with.

    So where is that fear coming from? If someone that printed a newsletter 20 years ago called themselves a reporter or a journalist, you wouldn’t be afraid of those terms. So why digitally? I personally think the biggest factor is that the general public have been bred to not question media. Directly digest the stories coming out of those hallowed news-rooms without thought to sources, because, well, they printed it so it must be true! Except now everyone has their own printing press and a potential audience of thousands or millions. But we still directly digest and believe what we read without a second thought.

    If this gap can be bridged and the public can be trained to think more critically about what they read, not just on blogs, but also in print, on television, and on the radio (yes, I’m sorry, including you my dear MPR) it raises the bar for everyone at the table — the public, the reportage, the subjects of the media — and we all benefit from that.

  • Bob Collins

    John, you so badly misread the piece. I consider myself a booyahist (kind of like Alfred Kahn using “banana” instead of ‘recession’).

    I don’t believe it IS possible by any means to overcome the negatives of the blo…blog…blogosphere.

    We need another word to describe bloggers who don’t stink.

    Whether they’re mainstream or independent is utterly irrelevant to the discussion. Unfortunately these sorts of discussions usually get boiled down to that.

    Bloggers who lie, or fib, or fabricate or repackage inaccurately are NOT losing credibility at the moment where they shouldn’t have had any in the first place. The fact they get even a minute’s worth — as I tried to point out — allows them to drive the news agenda on just about any platform, even if it’s just a little old lady, standing up and repeating an ignorant shred of information.

    It’s the genie in the bottle. You CAN’T put it back. And that’s the reality the booyahists need to acknowledge.

  • http://erikhare.wordpress.com/ Erik Hare

    Bob, you’re spot on. First hand journalists can be called that, reporters, CJ, whatever. There are terms.

    Those of us who write essays and commentaries that are intellectually honest probably should have another term.

    Those who spew crap they make up or twist other people’s stories are what I call “Barkers”, in that they use words primarily to convey status on themselves rather than to communicate. It’s what my dog does when the mailman shows up in an attempt to make himself sound big (he isn’t). The word “blogger” has been polluted by their crap, and will probably never recover. Suggested terms are:

    Liars

    Jerkwads

    Axe-Grinders

    Wannabees

  • http://john.hoffoss.com John T. Hoffoss

    I gave a talk show a (good natured) hard time last week because I thought discussions about the economic meltdown were too elitist and didn’t deal with “real people’s” worries. “Put it on your blog,” the host said

    Harsh. The most disturbing part of that sentiment (and Norm’s) is essentially that the audience, presumably made up of “real people”, don’t matter. In the case of Norm’s attitude, switch “audience” for “voter”. Not that Norm would’ve had my vote in the first place, but after that message broadcast, he certainly won’t get my vote.

  • Bob Moffitt

    Actually, Esme Murphy (and the before mentioned Olsen) did a fine job at the second WCCO Bloginar II last week at Sweeney’s. Murphy called her new role as blogger “liberating,” giving her the freedom to add depth, detail, and a touch of personality to the Petters Trial she couldn’t do on teevee. She says she is still learning about blogging — I think she has the basics down pretty well.

    That same night Olsen explained he and the Uptake (which does provide editorial oversight) are not out there to capture “Gotcha” moments of political candiates. Less than 18 hours later, he and others were being barred from the Coleman news conference.

  • bsimon

    Erik Hare got it right. Not all bloggers are journalists, and not all journalists are bloggers. But some journalists make excellent bloggers; my shortlist includes (not to brown-nose too much): Bob Collins, Eric Black & Chris Cillizza. Sadly, Black’s Big Question went down the tubes following his departure & Cillizza’s ‘The Fix’ is largely populated by lunatics at the moment. A good blog is hard to find. A good blog that lasts is even harder to find.

  • Bob Collins

    // The most disturbing part of that sentiment (and Norm’s) is essentially that the audience, presumably made up of “real people”, don’t matter.

    No that never entered into the equation at all. See the 6th paragraph.

    What I’m talking about here is EVERYONE being lumped into the same basket.

    Quality is seen as an exception for a reason. Thus the generalization that results.

    Mainstream media didn’t do it. Norm Coleman didn’t do it. The blogosphere did it.

    I’m telling you, we need a name. One that we don’t tell Matt Drudge about.

  • http://www.emtnester.com Beth

    Being a “blogger” is a BUSINESS, for newsworthy bloggers like yourself or social bloggers like myself, (a fun blog for empty nesters). In this sense the content of our posts must provide exactly what the audience needs or they will leave your site in a nanosecond. For you, the content must have respectable sources and back-up; for me, my content must be amusing and add quality of life for my readers.

    I say I am a ‘blogger’ with pride whether I am joking around with friends, attending a traditional networking event or when I am guest speaking.

  • http://wcco.com/jasonblog Jason DeRusha

    People in our newsroom used to make fun of me blogging with that same dismissive “put it on your blog” attitude. Things have changed around here.

    I think the term “blog” is a little like the term “internet” or “media.” When people slam the “media” they’re not being specific enough. I think the “blog” world could also benefit from a more specific breakdown. Is MinnPost a blog? No. Minnesota Independent? No. My wordpress page? Yes. The Uptake? No.

    What’s a better term? Online news sources? Beats me.

  • http://john.hoffoss.com John T. Hoffoss

    John, you so badly misread the piece. I consider myself a booyahist (kind of like Alfred Kahn using “banana” instead of ‘recession’).

    I wasn’t actually attempting to boil it down to mainstream vs. independent media, but used that as a theme for my comment based on the association of independent media with blogs.

    I was attempting to convey the fact that I don’t care what you call yourself; you’re a journalist and a blogger. Proof: “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.” This wouldn’t get into a print article or news reporting on NPR; it’s fine here. By the way, I hope the surgery went well.

    There’s a fundamental breakdown in calling yourself a “booyahist” (which, by the way, is terrible and makes me think of Jim Cramer and nothing else) and that is: you are a reporter, posting reportage on a blog. Hence, blogger. No newsroom, no editor fact-checking your work (presumably), and you, the author, replying to comments in the moment.


    We need another word to describe bloggers who don’t stink.

    I’m telling you, we need a name. One that we don’t tell Matt Drudge about.

    What word do you use to describe journalists who don’t stink? You can call yourself what you want. “Blogger with journalistic values”, “ethical blogger”, “journalist without a newsroom or editor that posts on webpages sometimes referred to as blogs”, or booyahist (booyaher? booyahoo? :) In any situation, “blogger” or otherwise, the only reputation you carry or lose comes from what you write, not what you call yourself. So you don’t avert any of this reputational issue by using a different name; if that new title actually carried more weight, the big-bad bloggers would just adopt the same.


    No that never entered into the equation at all. See the 6th paragraph.

    6th paragraph:

    “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.”

    I don’t see the connection between this and my insinuation that Norm Coleman’s reaction or that radio host’s response about blogs/bloggers conveys disrespect and a generally-negative opinion about “main street”, the home of most bloggers. The way I read that, “put it on your blog” is essentially saying “call someone who cares”. Perhaps I had to get more of that quote for context, or perhaps I had to hear it for tone.

    ANYway, your professional journalism and the quality reportage you produce define your reputation, not the title you put on a business card, a website or a blog.

  • David W.

    Bob, you can barely say “blogger” at least but NPR can’t even manage to say “abuse of power” with regard to what Gov. Palin did in Alaska with her efforts to bully the Alaska State Police into firing a trooper for purely petty personal reasons. Even though that’s EXACTLY the words the twelve Alaska state legislators used when voting unanimously to condemn Palin’s flagrant abuse of power. Is it any wonder that a blogger like Duncan Black (aka Atrios) uses the phrase “Nice Polite Republicans” when referring to NPR?

    As for the hoards of bloggers defiling the Truth as defined by journalists, I imagine the Pope felt much the same way about Martin Luther and his notion of actually allowing ordinary people to read the Holy Word in their own language, rather than having it dispensed to them though a politically-correct priestly intermediary. I still maintain that the journalistic animus towards bloggers is less about Truth than it is about Power, and of course, Money.

    I should explain that I finally had it with journalism when the so-called profession epically failed to simply report the obvious about Biblical creationism and how it was unscientific and totally wrong. But noooo, journalists had to do the news version of “teaching the controversy” rather than just simply say creationism and intelligent design are actually crackpottery worthy of being called just that. But, noooo journalists can’t piss off subscribers or potential donors by saying such inconvenient truths because it would upset people and we can’t have that! Better for journalists to maintain the pretense that there’s a serious debate with regard to creationism and then blithely claim they’re informing the people. What utter rubbish! No, I had to go to a blogger like PZ Myers, who while very rude and crude at times at least tells me the actual truth.

  • MR

    There is a lot of blurring going on, even in major media sources, and we haven’t really come to terms with it. As an example, where would Lou Dobbs’s show fit in with our definitions of media? How about Keith Olbermann? Are they news shows (or newsmagazines)? Are they even journalists? Clearly some of what they do is to report news, but some of it is not.

    How much does the medium and venue have to do with what we think the information we get? It reminds me of the Jon Stewart-Tucker Carlson interaction, where Stewart tells Carlson “You’re on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.”

    How would you categorize Jon Stewart, and does his being on Comedy Central change what you think of his information?

  • Bob Collins

    //As for the hoards of bloggers defiling the Truth as defined by journalists, I

    I’m not sure why this keeps coming up since that wasn’t at all an article of contention in the original article.

    Unless you’re saying that writing up something, giving it your own spin based on what you want to believe and THEN — after your publish… THEN asking for the facts is a form of “truth.”

    And on what planet is a news release that says Barack Obama is a Muslim truth?

    This is not another version of the truth, protected or not by mainstream media. It’s garbage. It’s garbage in any language or media platform and the reason why the term blogosphere, blog, or blogger is met with contempt is because there’s enough garbage out there to define the medium, IN SPITE of what is out there that could be used to define it differently.

    That’s the point. It’s too late to REdefine the term. We need another one.

  • http://minneapolis.metblogs.com Erica M

    I don’t see how something like “news blogger for Minnesota Public Radio” doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight.

    You are blogging. On news topics. On a blog. Powered by blog software (sorry, a content management system). For a news outlet known as MPR.

    You do good work, Bob. Stand on that and quit grumbling about the stuff you can’t control.

  • Bob Collins

    //How would you categorize Jon Stewart, and does his being on Comedy Central change what you think of his information?

    I often say Jon Stewart may be the best journalists out there right now , and I’m only half-kidding. The fact he’s a comedian doesn’t change the usefulness of the information partly because he has one of the best research staffs I’ve ever seen. How can he pull all of that archive tape together so fast. It must be an amazing operation.

    Still, it’s not the first time this has been done. Way back in the ’60s, That Was The Week That Was brought satire into the American home. TW3 — as it was called — was a lift from a BBC show. On another subject, it’s amazing, right now, how much of our TV actually comes from the BBC.

    TV has its categorical strata. Olbermann is “24/7″ cable. Stewart is “comedian.” Those help categorize, I think, the content.

    The “booyahsphere” doesn’t have that yet.

  • Bob Collins

    // grumbling about the stuff you can’t control.

    I’d have no posts at all last week, in that case. (g)

  • Bob Collins

    // No, I had to go to a blogger like PZ Myers, who while very rude and crude at times at least tells me the actual truth.

    I guess it depends on you describe truth. In matters regarding the secrets of life and the matters of the universe, especially in regards to the existence or not of a God, we really can’t say for certain. We can guess.

  • MR

    I think that a new term sounds like a great idea, as long as Tim “Web 2.0″ O’Reilly doesn’t coin it and endlessly promote it, even when it has almost no meaning. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

  • http://erikhare.wordpress.com/ Erik Hare

    Allow me one far-too-subtle point:

    Bob *is* not a blogger or a reporter.

    What Bob *does* is blog and report.

    The problem we have is that some people attempt to define people by what they do. If we separate the body of work from the person, or accept the person as nothing more than a brand name, the problem largely resolves itself.

    That may sound impersonal, but how many of you have actually *met* the people you read on-line? Lacking that perosnal connection, how are you supposed to say who they *are*?

    What I see in front of me is a blog. It is well written and insightful. That makes me want to come back. The guy who writes it? He’s Bob. He seems like a helluva guy, and that’s good enough for me. He can call himself whatever he wants, and I’m good with it.

    This is something I call “Free Reading” or “Liber Lectoris” for those of you who like fancy titles (and what doesn’t sound more imposing in Latin?). It’s on my blog in detail. Learn how to not take everything so damned seriously, and learn how to separate the writer’s state of *being* from their work.

    It makes everyone’s life much better in the end.

  • http://minneapolis.metblogs.com Erica M

    I’d have no posts at all last week, in that case. (g)

    Okay, that’s a good point. But maybe let this one thing go. ;)

  • http://liberalinthelandofconservative.blogspot.com/ Eric Austin

    “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.”

    I wouldn’t worry too much about Gary Gross (The right wing blogger). He will rabidly attack anyone who even hints that Steve Gottwalt is less than a saint.

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck Olsen

    I know where you’re coming from, Bob! (It’s called the blawgosphere… j/k)

    People have been making the mistake of trying to generalize bloggers for years now. 8 or 10 years ago, the group was so small and tech-oriented you probably could generalize. From 9/11 to the rise of Howard Dean and Drudge, political bloggers competed with personal bloggers for the blogger stereotype: Ranting pajama pundit or banal too-much-information teenager? And what about mommy bloggers, music bloggers, and those damned videobloggers?

    You may as well say, “I’m a telephoner. I’m a guy who communicates using a telephone.” This is why Norm Coleman’s dismissive comment, like Nick Coleman’s a couple years ago, is insulting to lots of people who just happen to communicate on a blog. And just happen to vote, btw.

    News Cut represents the best of what a news media blog can be. You bring a critical eye to sometimes-overlooked information, you bring your personality, and lots of links. I can understand why you’d want to come up with a new term that shakes the baggage, but I agree with Erica that “News Blogger for MPR” sounds pretty accurate, and better than your made up word.

  • LearnedFoot

    I prefer the term “ThunderJournal” to “blog”. (And now, because of this post, also to “booyah”.)