Monday, January 8, 2007

Bloggers and Reporting, a Work in Progress

In the continuing struggle between the mainstream media and bloggers, it's time to start getting a little clearer.

"Blogger" is just far too broad to be applied to political types, ranters, ordinary citizens, experts, journalists and others who choose to write and instantly publish their thoughts.

When people say they "don't trust blogs," or, alternatively, that they don't read newspapers but get "all my information from blogs," it would be good to know which ones they're talking about. Not to mention smart to note that most blogs aren't doing original reporting but often just pointing to, and then arguing with, newspaper reporting.

It's also time to distinguish between the bloggers themselves--the site owners--and the drive-by commenters. Many bloggers maintain open comment areas, meaning anyone can come by and post anything and then hide.

What set me off this week has been the now-discredited month-long campaign of attacks on the AP by no-nothing rightwing bloggers.

The Associated Press took a pounding for some weeks at the hands of rightwing bloggers determined to prove that the wire service had relied on a biased or even insurgent, source, perhaps a nonexistent Iraqi source when reporting the fiery murders of six Sunni worshippers.

Rightwingers were sure this was evidence that the AP was unpatriotically trying to mock/insult/drag down the US efforts in Iraq. The denunciations were in many cases ugly, fierce, brutal. It didn't help that both Iraqi officials and US military officials denied the guy existed. We even saw a few American journalists try to insist that AP needed to be more forthcoming, identify further, somehow prove that its reporting was right. Some rightwing bloggers insisted that the fact that the Iraqi had been quoted numerous times as proof that he didn't exist or was deliberately feeding the AP false information, though the logic of that thinking is next to impossible to follow.

Until, finally, his existence was confirmed. Not only was his existence confirmed, so was the fact that he was facing arrest because, ta-da, he had been talking to the press.

Editor and Publisher wrote this:
Associated Press Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll on Friday criticized those who questioned the existence of an AP Iraq source, who was proven this week to be real, saying the scrutiny has now endangered the man's life.
"I never quite understood why people chose to disbelieve us about this particular man on this particular story," Carroll told E&P. "AP runs hundreds of stories a day, and has run thousands of stories about things that have happened in Iraq."

Then the rightwingers' argument shifted.

Now his existence wasn't the issue, just the facts of what he had told the AP, which, because it couldn't PROVE that the six worshippers had been set on fire--no bodies, you see--the service's reporting was suspect.

Here are two headlines that caught my attention today:
NYTimes A Disputed A.P. Source Turns Up, but Bloggers Are Not Appeased


USATodayBlogger-media distrust comes to a head in Iraq

Of course, both headlines are accurate, as far as they go.

But they're problematic, too. We wouldn't write "Congress attacks X" if it were just the Democrats (or Republicans) doing so, because the "Congress" or, in this case, "bloggers" is simply too broad a term. Especially when major bloggers are often either published on political web sites are are closely affiliated with political movements. Lets call a spade a spade, left or right. And let's be more specific in identifying the agendas and campaigns and the personalties involved because who is doing the talking has a lot to do with what they are saying.

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