The Media

Blogs and the Media: Kemmick and Crisp

I'm not a citizen journalist. I'm a teacher who is passionate about our political future. Sometimes, I think I even have something valuable to contribute to political discourse. I know that neither David nor Ed would deny me that right, but I hope that they'll take a look at some of the better work out on the web. It might restore their faith. :)
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Yes, it’s ironic that I am blogging about Ed Kemmick and David Crisp‘s blog posts about blogging, but it’s cool–we’re all bloggers. They raise some good points:
I absolutely agree that blogs tend to be very insular–and that is really unfortunate, but I think it more accurately reflects the political divide in our country right now. The web’s not alone in its failure to create legitimate spaces for civil political discourse; those places don’t really exist in the public sphere, or in the traditional media.

It’s also true that blogs encourage behavior that is less than civil by allowing anonymous comments. Take a look over at Montana’s new conservative blog, and you’ll see why they don’t work. I think it’s also true that there is little accountability for blog posts, but is there really accountability for the news media? The New York Times, like me, can only lose its audience if it loses the trust of its readership. (Last Check: 62,000,000 to 7). Of course, I can’t start a war, either.
It’s also damn true that bloggers think they are a lot more important than they are. Blogger Triumphalism sounds like a nice title for a book. 🙂

Those concessions aside, I think some of the argument against blogs is overstated. David writes:

Bloggers fact-check our asses, and we don’t like it. Some do, some of the time. But most media criticism on blogs is of such low and redundant quality that reading it is a waste of time.

I think you are reading the wrong blogs, man. Some of the things we write are snarky, mean-spirited, or even juvenile, but often (at least occasionally), they are right. I’ll stand by this criticism of Charles Johnson’s recent piece. Matt’s criticism of The Missoulian’s editorial the other day was dead on. Touchstone offered a thoughtful analysis of abortion rights. Montana, and the nation have some damn fine thinkers who don’t have access to the media on a regular basis, and they’re worth giving a read. Why? Because just as blogs are insular, so is the media. Why else would Larry Sabato be the ‘go to guy’ for 6 of 10 articles about political analysis? Why do the same pundits appear on the TV news shows every week? The insular, enclose world of the media and its subjects is one that needs to be examined, by thoughtful bloggers, reporters, and editors.
The bottom line is this. In the same way that it wouldn’t be fair to criticize the news media based on the Investor’s Business Daily, Washington Times, or Soviet Pravda, it’s not fair to condemn blogs based on the bottom of the barrel. Read the good stuff–right and left, and you will find nuanced, thoughtful analysis–and occasionally something that you hadn’t thought of before. Sure, I’d love to have more discussion and dialogue on the web, but if that can’t happen, I think it’s a damn sight better to have informed, articulate advocates forcing everyone to be more accountable.

I’m not a citizen journalist. I’m a teacher who is passionate about our political future. Sometimes, I think I even have something valuable to contribute to political discourse. I know that neither David nor Ed would deny me that right, but I hope that they’ll take a look at some of the better work out on the web. It might restore their faith. 🙂

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it’s a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

17 Comments

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  • Actually, both this blog and Matt’s are among those on my list of blogs I read and respect. 4&20 Blackbirds isn’t on my list, but perhaps it should be. I’ll give it a look.

  • Pogie: I agree with much of what you say, but it’s funny that the one excerpt you take from David’s piece is not answered by the examples you then give. He was talking about fact-checking. You and Matt Singer both wrote interesting pieces, but neither of them involved any fact checking. You were poking fun at Chuck’s objectivity and Matt was ridiculing the Missoulian’s editorial.

    I think what David means is that so many political blogs like to pretend they are “monitoring” the media, but in 99 percent of the cases they are merely on the prowl for perceived leftist or right-wing bias. What the blogs rarely do is point out factual mistakes, or explain how reporters and editors could have done a better job reporting on a particular story. The big-picture, philosophical chin-scratching is fun, but it doesn’t advance things much. It’s the nitty-gritty details that matter to newspaper reporters, but the details are usually missing from the blogs.

  • Thanks for the plug! Tho’ I disagree with Pogie’s self-deprecation. I do admit some of my posts are written post-haste (ha ha) and lack the quality that would accompany contemplation and revision — but h*ll! I think there’s interesting stuff, too! Check the blog out, Mr. Crisp, see whatcha think…

  • Ed~

    I was addressing it a bit more globally, combining the fact checking and media criticism angle at once. I think Matt’s piece is fact checking, though. While certainly his piece does deal with bias, he is addressing the fact that the Missoulian was basically wrong.

    I think you are misreading my piece about Chuck Johnson. Hell, I have no idea what his politics are–and that is to his credit. However, I did take issue with how formulaic and generic the piece was. I guess I’d like to see more from my journalists. They don’t need to be crusaders, they don’t need to be ideologues, but they should do more than write articles that are clearly nothing more than calling out of state observers for their generic commentary. I’m sure that Mr. Johnson knows more about Montana politics and voters than any of the the people he called–why not write analysis instead of going back to the well of punditry?

    Thanks for the comment.

  • Let’s us get somethin’ straight right here. It’s easy as hell to talk about good blogs and bad blogs … as long as one doesn’t define one from the other. That value judgement relies on an assumption that next to none of us wish to discuss. We share this with more main-stream media. The elephant in the living room is a basis of standards that we bloggers are as afraid of embrassing as David claims that the traditional media is. Fact checking? Is that what it’s really all about? No, not very much at all.

    David argues that much of the fact checking of media asses is very low grade, and he’s right to the degree that some standard of acceptability is met. So let’s quit shying away from the standard. What makes a newspaper “good” or not? What makes a blog good or not? I ask these things here,not because I’m afraid of the question, but because I suspect those who assume answers with a smile and a wink, and yet won’t offer them.

    (Though my comment may sound harsh, Pogie, I respect the hell out of you and ID. But if we’re gonna talk meta-smack, we’d best do it honestly.)

  • I’ll try to define an answer, though it may come up short.

    First, it’s probably simplistic to call a blog or paper ‘good’ or ‘bad’, though that is what I’ve done. A more fair assessment would be measuring the quality of individual posts, so a blog with more quality posts and discussions is a better blog.

    So what is a good post, or a good news article? Maybe I’m taking the easy route, but I’ll define it by what it is not: A good blog post/news article is not:
    1) repeating spin without anaylsis
    2) providing the illusion of balance, by offering two (or more) sides, without critical evaluation.
    3) unoriginal
    4) unnecessarily inflammatory. (by that I don’t mean non-controversial, but something just designed to rile up peope. You know, like calling someone a Nazi.)
    5) trite, obvious, boring

    So good media of any kind is interesting, analytical, evaluative, factual and challenging. It should based on persuasive examination of the evidence.

    Based on that standard, I’m not sure that I see a lot of ‘great’ journalism in the Montana papers. Of course, good/bad itself is an oversimplification. It’s on a continuum, but too much of what I read probably scores a 3 on a 10 point scale.

    It’s too bad, too, because the public is hungry for good journalism. I’m reminded of the piece that Mike Dennison wrote a few months ago, about Racicot and deregulation. I actually heard people (not bloggers, but regular people) talking about the news for a days after that. Why? Because Dennison went beyond the formula, and wrote a piece that went beyond the ‘the evidence says x, but we say y’ formula.

    All of us could do better.

  • And no worries about the tone…that’s what we write for, isn’t it? Discussion and clarification of ideas are what appeals to me about this format.

  • Anonymous posters are a necessary evil I think –

    As I said over at my blog, I’d prefer not to have anonomous posts, but there are some people who won’t publish a legitimate belief, view, or judgement for fear of getting in trouble with spouses, employers, suppliers, customers, etc.

    There are also trolls who simply want to stir the pot.

    It’s not fair to say it doesn’t work though, I get a lot of traffic.

    Thanks for reading –

  • And I think that is exactly the problem. In anonymous comments at your site, what’s the ratio of valuable to inflammatory posts? My brief look suggests that it doesn’t work.

    A lot of people watch wrestling on TV, too. 🙂

  • I’ve been thinking about anonymous comments, and for the most part it seems that if someone isn’t willing to put a name behind their comment, it isn’t worth reading.

    There is one obvious exception with whistle blowers, who deserve the protection of anonymity in bringing critical evidence to light.

    But we’re talking about blogs, where comment threads more closely resemble “letters to the editor.” “Anonymous” just doesn’t warrant a first look, let alone a second.

    Regarding good vs. bad blogs and media in general, it’s essentially the same can of worms you’d open talking about “good art” vs. “bad art.” It seems simple enough to lay out a more or less arbitrary code of standards and call it an objective point of reference. That what journalistic tradition has done in doing things like establishing “said” as the verb of reference and mapping out a discipline for linguistic objectivity. It serves up to a point and no further.

    But “good blogs” and “bad blogs” is a fascinating conversation that could go on until everyone eventually loses interest. It’s a conversation that should probably happen continually if blogs are to evolve and endure.

  • The concept of putting a name behind a post is also somewhat manufactured as well. Most things on the internet have a sense of anonymity to them because one can manufacture an identity and hide behind it. With the exception of Matt Singer, someone I knew in a past life, I really don’t know who any of you are other than I have a sense of your politics and thoughts through your blogs. With few exceptions, nobody really knows me or Don either other than what you see here. To be honest, however, I can’t really say I know the most journalists in even the local papers as well. I knew a reporter at the Tribune when I taught in Great Falls, only because I taught his son. I have developed an appreciation or a dislike for particular journalists based on a longtime review of their work. I suppose a blog and even blog commenters would be judged in that same process to me.

  • Regarding manufactured identities: yes, but “identity” itself is something of an artificial construct. Even the large, hyper attended blogs tend to develop communities of regulars whose monikers might be initials or a “handle” or just a first name. It wouldn’t matter whether I used my birth name or “Xanthippe Virago.” “Jesus’ General” is an often sublime satire blog constructed around a manufactured character, “J.C. Christian, Patriot,” or “General, Sir!” One cannot create the same effect with “anonymous,” which goes against the spirit of the thing, I think.

  • That’s a good point, David, but at least in that case, the speaker does have something to lose with irresponsible rhetoric. If “Walter Smzuda” posts a lot at Kos–that identity, even if manufactured, can sustain a loss of credibility.

    In the end, I’d prefer that people disclose more, rather than less, but that doesn’t even happen in letters to the editor. How often are letters ‘from ordinary folks’ actually from Party officials, etc?

  • Pogie,

    I’m confused. You assail Chuck Johnson for his post-Morrison column and yet accuse us all (MSM and bloggers) of being insular. Shouldn’t a reporter call outside observers, rather than give his own insular observations? Who would you have called?

    Jason

  • (Overly long answer commences) 🙂

    Good point, Jason, except that calling those people gives the illusion of some in-depth reporting, when in reality, their comments are generic and really devoid of insight.

    Larry Sabato illustrates the point really well. The American Journalism Review called him one of the “quote machines” in this article (http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=3857), and discussed a number of papers that refuse to let their reporters use him as a source:

    “Commentators like Sabato who speak frequently to reporters have earned a reputation as easy quotes or dial-a-quotes. Harried reporters on deadline can phone these scholars at any time to get a quick and pithy comment on a remarkable range of subjects, from missile defense to the Mississippi Delta. And in an age in which government officials often speak anonymously or on background, reporters depend on analysts with real names to provide information–even if they don’t always have much of substance to contribute.

    But many editors and some reporters, suffering from quote fatigue, say overuse of these scholars has created something of a permanent commentariat. Such a “punditocracy,” as The Nation’s Eric Alterman has called it, is thought to dispense a numbing conventional wisdom, as more obscure analysts who offer fresh insight or bring greater expertise to a particular topic are neglected. Critics argue journalists should work harder to plumb opinions from a vast expanse of sources.”

    So, my point is that just going to the same old well of generic comments doesn’t stop insularity. My first preference would be for Johnson (and whoever) to develop new sources, people who know more than the pundits who live 2000 miles. I suspect my Google News joke isn’t far off. And if you look at those quotes in Johnson’s piece, do any of them actually say anything?

    If not new sources, withn new insight, then, yeah, I’d rather hear what Charles Johnson has to say. As I read that column, it’s supposed to be more of an analysis piece than hard news. I’d like to see the senior political writer in the state offer some more insight–insight that he has, rather than fall back on the cliche.

    Sure, you’re going to make some people angry, and some people charge bias. But it’s better to have us talking about a news story than acquiesce to the numbing nothingness of the pundits.

    (Overly long answer over)

  • Pogie,

    I need some pundits to comment on Lewis and Clark County and City of Helena affairs? Know any?

    Jus’ kidding,

    Jason

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