By now, everyone who is interested has heard the tale of CNN news chief Eason Jordan. Jordan makes wild and unsubstantiated claims, big media ignore the story, and the blogs won’t shut up about it. Eventually Eason resigns in disgrace.

Bloggers like to say that they’ll replace MSM some day. Not gonna happen. We don’t have the resources to gather data, interview people, and get the stories out in a coherent way.

But Eason and Rathergate has shown what we’re good for. Keeping them honest, shining a thousand tiny lights at outrageously biased behavior and unsubstantiated claims until everyone notices.

So it’s important that we realize that we’re like a swarm of unpaid editors and ombudsmen, not the reporters who know how to get the goods. Unless we happen to be very lucky we’re not going to break the big story. Instead we’re going to make sure that uncomfortable truths aren’t buried in favor of some agenda.

Big media claim that we’re getting in the way. They say that we’re just a bunch of partisan hacks who wouldn’t know good journalism if it came up and bit us on the nose. The unrelenting harping of the blogs, they say, is making it harder for them to do their jobs.

Well, we might make it harder for MSM to do their job, but we’re also forcing them to do it right.

Ginny, one of my fellow Chicago Boyz, makes a wonderful observation in the comments below, comparing bloggers to old-style ham radio operators. She even manages to work in a reference to Libertarians. Well worth your time.

12 thoughts on “Watchdog”

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  4. I think the key concept here is that blogs close the feedback loop.

    In other words, the MSM supposedly is a watchdog of government. But, there never has really been a watchdog of the media. Enter blogs, but then the question begs itself – who will police the policers of the policers of the politicians? The answer is once again: blogs!

    Blogs police each other, AS WELL AS the media. Since the blogosphere is such a fluid medium, traffic gravitates to truth. Falsehoods, embellishments etc get weeded out so quickly by bloggers that keenly debunk them to attract eyeballs themselves. Peddling an untruth simply gets you nowhere fast, unlike on the MSM.

    Voila – peddling BS just got inifinitely tougher than before. Blogs do end up keeping the MSM honest, not replacing it necessarily. But that is no mean achievement… all of a sudden, access to information is almost free, to a greater level of curated accuracy than ever in human history.

    Its an exciting trend to be a part of!

  5. James:
    “…it’s important that we realize that we’re like a swarm of unpaid editors and ombudsmen, *not the reporters who know how to get the goods*.”

    As Rahul agrees above, blogs are consigned to serve as B.S. checkers, then get out the word.

    You both seem to accept a confining “glass ceiling” that delimits the potential evolution of the ‘sphere’s news-collection faculties.

    And I wish you wouldn’t! It was, afterall, Matt Drudge who broke the Clinton/Intern-Felatio scandal. N’est-ce pas?

  6. I’m with Steve on this one. The earliest and some of the best reporting on the recent tsunami disaster came from blogs. One unavoidable weakness MSM organizations have is high overhead. Most of them can only keep knowledgeable reporters posted in major US and European cities, and in a few other places like Baghdad. When something happens in Thailand, or even Tempe, it takes the MSM much longer to get reporters to the affected area than it does for local bloggers to react, and even when they do arrive the MSM people often don’t have a clue about local history, language, main players or current conditions.

  7. You both seem to accept a confining “glass ceiling” that delimits the potential evolution of the ‘sphere’s news-collection faculties.

    Actually, I’m just trying to be realistic about the difficulties of covering a wide range of subjects day after day.

    I agree that the blogs have performed better than big media at certain times, but most of those stories (such as the tsunami coverage, or reporting Eason’s remarks at an economics conference) could be seen as exceptional circumstances.

    Take a look at all of the subjects covered just on this blog. Count the links that lead to original reporting by a blogger. Then compare that to links that either lead to a big media item, or a post on another blog discussing something from big media.

    I think it’s very clear that we can provide some good service, and that such a service is way overdue. But we’re not going to be replacing traditional sources of news.


  8. Off topic but another angle:
    Bloggers are in the tradition of the eighteenth century coffee houses, perhaps; certainly in the tradition of the numerous newspapers in colonial cities. But it seems to me we are also in the tradition of those ham radio operators sitting in their cellars or bedrooms, talking across the continents. The only way we knew of the safety of my oldest daughter, in 8th grade and on a trip to a small mission in Honduras, was through the ham radio operators. I only knew some in a superficial way – but they had an esprit de corps like that of bloggers. Both require a certain hardiness & optimism about an open marketplace of speech – reaching out to people everywhere. They’s put their call numbers on their license plates–is that confidence or what – reaching out to anyone who’s out there? That was small, not really a revolution, but I suspect those radio types also had a hearty number of independent thinkers and probably of libertarians.

  9. Another angle:
    Isn’t our strength our weakness? That is, our strength is that the blogosphere is made up of a lot of people doing a lot of different jobs in a lot of different places. The variety of our skills, interests, experiences is what makes us see things the msm doesn’t. The proportional fonts alone to people of a certain age and a certain (but broad) experience made us sure it was a forgery.

    A professional blogger who spent their entire time studying and writing on blogs would then have fewer other experiences, less expertise. The people on this blog not only have had different experiences but are still having them. The time we spend in our real lives is what we have to offer in our hobby lives. This means that we have an expertise few in the media have. My sister complained about the trend toward BAs in journalism (she got one but double majored; then a m.a.). She thought a good journalist should first become accomplished in another area to make reporting more knowledgeable. Bloggers are that – but we also know that our “reporting” is going to be limited by the human limitations of time, geography, etc. The military bloggers & Iraqis can tell us about Iraq, the lawyers about new legal decisions.

    This places, I suspect, a pretty heavy burden on Glenn Reynolds. I rely on him more heavily now that I post & comment – there are only so many hours in the day and I have papers to grade. But Reynolds, who seems to have tremendous energy and wit, is just one man and has just one set of preferences. He’s pretty spectacular; still, I’m not interested in nanotechnology and he’s not interested in most of the stuff on A&L.

    I’m not sure how we can overcome the limitations without losing the strengths. And, right now, even the military bloggers are more like the op-ed page and less like the news reports. James’ point is important – as op-ed types, we use the news stories as catalyst (even when we criticize them – perhaps especially then). Without them you get something like, well, my personal essays or a day in the life of. Thus we bring an example of our limited but real expertise & experience to the blog. But this is generally anecdotal, good examples but seldom convincingly representative samples.

  10. Hey, forget this Jordan loser. He got what he deserved. Thomas Sowell writes in today’s RealClearPolitics that one of the questionable documents that the MSM will definitely not look hard at is John Kerry’s honorable discharge from the Navy during the Carter administration (uh, didn’t he leave Viet Nam in the early 70’s?).

    James/Ginny/Shannon/et al, please lend your considerable skills to getting that document authenticated. That’s a scalp that really needs to be hung.

  11. Pondering a middle ground, I wonder if we aren’t coddling an outdated notion of what “News” is.

    In the past, “News” may have been a *brand* of information presentation, rather than an accurate description of the information’s immediacy or usefullness.

    The new “News-gatherers” are decentralized associations, or ganglia, of competing, diverse blogging experts, whose archives and postings information consumers can dip into whenever they like. For example, if an attorney starts a blog that dissects and illuminates our nation’s legal issues (, however esoteric, he, like Instapundit, is delivering useful information to me whenever I visit.

    In fact, it may be exactly because Bloggers are redefining “News” in such a pluralistic way that so many in the insular MSM are so reproachful of them.


  12. Thanks, James for your usual (and typically Chicagoboyz) generosity.

    This refers to a relatively dated post about an even more dated episode, but I just ran into it tonight.

    Mudville Gazette discusses a paper written pre 9/11 – “Understanding Our Odd Bedfellow: The Trouble with Professional News Media Ethics – A Military Perspective.” by Maj Kent Cassella, U.S. Army – in response to that panel from that old (and quite wonderful PBS series); this one, “Ethics in America: Under Orders, Under Fire” explores journalistic ethics in times of wary; the panel included Jennings, Mike Wallace, and Colonel George M. Connell, United States Marine Corps. This is sometimes used in ethics classes and is a fascinating if disturbing set of hypotheticals.

    Underlying James’ point, I believe, is the fact that bloggers don’t see themselves as professionals. The distance Wallace felt he had between his role as journalist and his role as, well, American or even fellow human being is not felt by bloggers. We can’t pretend to any higher status – a blogger is anyone with a modem. Of course, we share a goal with the pros – we want to “report” – to record. What we record we realize is subjective and narrow but in our multiplicity we can throw out a lot of dots. Maybe someone somewhere will connect them. And we do some connecting.

    Because there are so many of us and our audiences are not always friendly, we try to be honest because someone out there is probably checking on us. Because these are our truths we don’t buy into the academic sophistries that there are no truths. There are, at the very least, our truths.

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