Tuesday, January 03, 2006

#222 - Poor, Pitiable MSM

Writing in the Business section of the NY Sli... er, Times, Katherine Q. Seelye describes the MSM's paradox with new media in "Answering Back to the News Media, Using the Internet." (registration req'd)

In simplest terms, the MSM no longer can rely on their granite-walled fortresses to protect them from the slings and arrows of the little people. You know, the folks Jay Rosen now calls "the people formerly known as the audience." (My favorite quote!)

Specifically, the MSM loyalists are dismayed at the vehemence with which new media bloggers (and others) rip apart nearly every story they ever publish.

Danny Schechter, executive editor of MediaChannel.org and a former producer at ABC News and CNN, said that while the active participation by so many readers was healthy for democracy and journalism, it had allowed partisanship to mask itself as media criticism and had given rise to a new level of vitriol.

"It's now O.K. to demonize the messenger," he said. "This has led to a very uncivil discourse in which it seems to be O.K. to shout down, discredit, delegitimize and denigrate the people who are reporting stories and to pick at their methodology and ascribe motives to them that are often unfair."

Ah. But the stories you publish are analagous to evidence presented at a criminal trial. Even if the evidence is merely circumstantial, we can convict if it removes reasonable doubt. If the story seems to favor one political spectrum over another, we can justly accuse you of having a "bias," whether or not you care to admit it. To continue:

Thomas Kunkel, dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, said reporting on reporters had created a kind of "Wild West atmosphere" in cyberspace.

With reporters conducting interviews more frequently by e-mail, he said, "You have to start thinking a couple of moves ahead because you're leaving a paper trail. And the truth squad mentality of some bloggers means you are apt to have your own questions thrown back at you."

From their perspective, I'm sure this has more than a ring of truth about it. If I were an old J school graduate, I might react the same way. After all, to have one's work thrown under a microscope and have every flaw revealed is a little like having one of those uncomfortable close-ups in a TV drama; the kind where every needle mark reveals exactly how many botox injections the actress has received. Furthermore, reporters can no longer simply sit on their material and anonymous "sources" and hope the furor will simply go away. No, now we have Google and innumerable bloggers who seem to have unlimited time on their hands. These new media warriors seem to delight in the deconstruction of nearly every article published in any paper with the words "Times," "Tribune," or "Herald" in their mastheads.

Well, folks, now look at it from our perspective. For decades (for some of us, anyway) we had labored under the apparent truth that, crooked though your reporting might be, there was precious little we could do to correct the "reality" that you were creating. If Walter Cronkite said it, by golly, it was truth worthy of being chiselled in marble and placed on the pillars of the Supreme Court. No matter that the subjects of those truths occasionally cried foul. They were merely disgruntled that their malfeasance had been uncovered. No longer:

Jamie McIntyre, CNN's senior correspondent at the Pentagon, said the traditional skills of sifting through information and presenting it in context were especially vital now because there were so many other sources of information.

"With the Internet, with blogs, with text messages, with soldiers writing their own accounts from the front lines, so many people are trying to shape things into their own reality," he said. "I don't worry so much anymore about finding out every little detail five minutes before someone else. It's more important that we take that information and tell you what it means."

Ah, yes. But what if it just happened that your traditional MSM version of "reality" didn't quite square with our own? What we PFKATA (People Formerly Known as the Audience) have long suspected is that you MSM writers and editors have been attempting to shape reality to fit your own vision of what we should perceive as truth. In other words, if you have a liberal bias, then those of us who are conservatives must by your definition be the bad guys. That's your reality. That's what you've been trying to peddle for centuries now.

If, as Mr. McIntyre pretends, it really is your job to tell us "what it means," then we reserve the right to disagree. Loudly, if need be. That we have the tools to do so must really stick in the MSM's collective craw. In other words, prepare to have more and more of your own questions thrown back at you.

This is war, after all.

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