Perhaps part of the reason O’Reilly finds blogs so objectionable is that without them, he would be able to freely speak to his like-minded audience. His slip-ups, controversial statements, and flat-out lies would be overlooked. To some degree, the same theory applies to traditional journalists, who are still adjusting to having their every word scrutinized for accuracy or bias—by liberals, conservatives, and even nonpartisan writers.
Hopefully, this type of media monitoring will help make reporting more accurate. Conservative bloggers helped identify bogus documents regarding President Bush’s National Guard service, and progressive bloggers closely watched reporting on the Iraq war, after major publications reported false pre-war information.
New media is also leveling the playing field by creating a media marketplace. In the past, readers had to rely on the news that was available to them in their geographic region. A city’s newspaper basically set the agenda for the public.
This power has now become more decentralized. Readers now go online to find the most interesting news of the day, regardless of where the stories are published. Part of the reason that sites like the Huffington Post and the Drudge Report have been so successful is that they find the best of what’s on the Internet and bring it together for readers.
This isn’t to say that all publications are exactly the same. Of course, stories from outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post still carry considerable heft because of the newspapers’ reputations. But more than ever, they are competing for attention from smaller newspapers and less-established online publications. For example, sites like Talking Points Memo and McClatchy were often quicker to report on news about the U.S. attorney scandal than larger news outlets, and some of the biggest campaign stories were broken by people with little or no journalism training.
One of the most exciting parts of my time during the past four years I have been writing for ThinkProgress is seeing journalism change and adapt to new media. In 2005, I could barely convince people to return my calls. When they did, I had to patiently explain what a “blog” was and how I wasn’t a crazy person sitting in my basement. Obtaining press credentials to an event was beyond my wildest dreams.
Compare those stories to a November 2008 Zogby International poll that found that people believe the Internet is the most reliable source of news. The president of the United States is even calling on bloggers at prime time press conferences.
The journalism I’m doing now is certainly different from what young writers were doing a decade ago. However, these changes don’t have to mean the death of quality journalism, as so many observers worry. Strong, groundbreaking reporting will still be elevated in the media marketplace, but sloppy, inaccurate pieces will also be more quickly identified.
Clearly, I have found out in the past month that there are hazards to this profession that I never imagined. But if O’Reilly’s intent was to intimidate me from writing on ThinkProgress, it’s not going to work.
In July, we invited laid-off and bought-out journalists to reflect on their experience in the form of a letter to colleagues. Now we are issuing a similar invitation to the young people who’ve come into the profession in the last five years or so, and the young journalism students who soon will. We invite them to air their concerns and hopes about journalism, too. The central questions: What do you see in this business that makes you still want to pursue it? How do you imagine people will get quality news five years down the road? How will you try to fit in? Send your submissions to email@example.com. We’ll publish these periodically under the headline “Starting Thoughts,” and we’ll archive everything we publish here.