Skip to comments.Meet the New Media, same as the Old Media: blogging and the problem of access
Posted on 02/06/2006 6:41:55 PM PST by machman
Steve Clemons' blog, The Washington Note, has been part of my daily reading routine for a little over a year. Clemons is a well-connected, fair-minded journalist and policy wonk who uses his blog for the kind of original reporting that's all too rare in the blogosphere. In a recent post, Clemons calls attention to the growing phenomenon of blogger conference calls. Clemons' post is worth reading in full, because it outlines some of the thorny ethical problems surrounding the now routine practice of Democratic Senators and Representatives holding conference calls with prominent liberal bloggers.
Ideally, these blogger conference calls should provide opportunities for a give-and-take between congresspeople and the bloggers who're out there in the trenches interacting directly with the party's base. The Senators and Representatives have a chance to pitch their message to a sympathetic audience, and in return they can get valuable critical feedback on things like issue framing and even policymaking. The bloggers can get the inside scoop on what's happening in the halls of Congress, and the varied causes they're advocating can benefit directly from some amount of message coordination between elected representatives and the blogger/activist community. Unfortunately, though, things don't seem to be working out this way.
According to Clemons, a large and growing number of the bloggers participating in these calls seem to be little more than eager mouthpieces for the Senator on the other end of the line.
The bigger issue for me with the Blogger conference calls is the sycophancy that seems to be developing in these meetings -- and the unwritten norm that those bloggers on the call are the running dogs for that particular Senator. There is clearly a 'community' of interests where the line between the journalistic and reporting objectives of the blogger and the interests of the Senator or Representative are becoming practically invisible.
Again, I think it's OK for like-minded journalists and politicians to share views, even share objectives for the country and world -- but the implied norm of the call feels as if there is an obligation of the bloggers to watch the Senator's or Rep's back -- to write not necessarily truthfully about the call, but to "frame" or "shape" the call in such a way that fits a politically acceptable groove.
Clearly, these bloggers are totally flattered by the fact that Ted Kennedy wants to talk to them, and this makes them quite happy to go forth and spread the Gospel According to Ted once the call is over.
Of course, as Clemons himself is at pains to point out, what's going on here isn't by any means new to the world of journalism. Furthermore, we at Ars can vouch for the fact that it's not new to the world of online journalism, either. In fact, the corrupting force that Clemons describes is at work any number of areas, and it has a name: access.
Access is what turned Bob Woodward from the iconic outsider journalist who brought down a president into the "court stenographer" for the Bush administration. In the world of so-called "new media," access to conference calls and closed-door meetings and prerelease review units very quickly turned large swaths of the online tech and gaming scenes into venues for regurgitated corporate PR. (We at Ars watched this one happen first-hand, in accelerated "Internet time.") To bring it even closer to home for me personally, over the past few years I've watched some leaders in my evangelical Christian denomination publicly betray most of the principles on which I was raised in exchange for nothing more than a few periodic phone calls from DC and the flattering attentions of the state GOP leadership. I throw in this last example to illustrate the point that the corrupting influence of access is a bipartisan problem, and it's by no means limited to journalism or private industry.
I'd feel better somehow if the aforementioned bloggers, journalists, ministers, etc. were being paid off. But it takes a unique mix of self-confidence and ambition to be the kind of person who can stand up to The Powers That Be and demand some quid pro quo. Most folks don't even have that going for them, much less the even rarer blend of gumption and integrity that it takes to ignore the Powers' interests and one's own self-interest in order to work toward the common good of a larger community.
To bring the discussion back to the specific issue of left-wing blogger coordination, I was a bit surprised to learn from some journalist friends of mine that there's actually a lefty blogger email list. The list includes the top progressive bloggers and many journalists, and it's used to coordinate coverage of different issues throughout the left-wing blogosphere.
The e-mail list and the conference calls raise some questions for me that I'd like to put to everyone, especially those who rely heavily on political blogs for most of their news, are as follows:
By way of conclusion, I want to point out that I don't have any information on how things work on the right-wing side of the blogosphere. The documentary Outfoxed pretty thoroughly documented the message coordination that goes on between the RNC and Fox News, and I have no doubt that there's even greater level of coordination that goes on between the RNC and many of the right-wing blogs. (Please, before you flame me for suggesting this, be prepared to convince me that nothing beyond some innocuous glad-handing goes on at the annual White House Hanukkah Party, where the leading lights of the right-wing blogosphere are cordially invited to hobnob with the President and his inner circle.) If you have any information on how messaging is coordinated on the righty side of the spectrum, I'd love to hear from you either via e-mail or in the comments thread.
Well, my reaction is, "so what?" Duh. When they start shutting sites down for not supporting the agenda, I'll get concerned. Politicians are going to work with people who give them good press. They should be able to meet and say anything they wish, as long as we can meet and say anything we wish.
Well, I know, its a "duh". But many leftist act as if they are all just all "the little people". This is really just the extention of the Clinton "talking points memos" that were sent out every day.
Yeah, I was reacting to the story, not to you. It's good to "know your enemy" and this, as you noted, is pretty much the talking points that claim there needs to be government oversight of the media, ala some kind of "fairness doctrine." Right now, the media is the wild west, and it should stay that way.
Problem I have here is that most bloggers, right or left, I don't think spend much time in the trenches. If your really in the thick of things who has time to blog? Most bloggers are very biased in there opinions. (Lord knows I love an articulate biased opinion.)
It's pretty evident that the left thinks the blogasphere is the main stream. I just hope the right doesn't make the same mistake.
If once accepts that this sort of thing should be done, one accepts that whatever one may think is necessarily subservient to the needs of a political class or a particular political party.
That's what has happened to the mainstream media, isn't it? That is why so few "leading journalists" ask good questions or even seem interested in getting at the truth. "Access" is another word for control.
Frankly, the recent blog conference held with the 3 candidates for House Majority Leader was the best piece of Journalism that I have seen in a whole year. The reason the left is hating this is that this is another chink in the armor of the OLD Media.
The Right is so sick of combatitive interviews that are little more than a littanly of distorted accusations, that they are delighted to get real access to news makers in a rational forum. This conference was full of tough questions, just was missing the horrid spin questions that are used to eat up time so that you don't learn anything.