Bloggers and Journalists

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Via Open Salon, this video of the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Reader Rep Ted Diadiun whining about how bloggers aren't *real* journalists and just steal the content that *real* newspapers (read: dying newspapers) produce.

If you get through this incredibly dry video, you'll see that there's much to take issue with. Anyone who suggests the limiting of any access to information should be met with fierce skepticism. But I think this is merely the siren song of a dying and ever less-relevant medium, and the proposed limiting of rights merely a silly, last ditch effort. It's like those old time movie execs trying to stifle the advent of sound in film out of the fear that it will limit their audience. Sorry buckos, it's inevitable.

And Ted here, seems to be all bent out of shape because no one is paying him for the research he did when they reproduce that research. Man, am I ever glad I don't have to pay out royalties to all of the authors of all the books I've used for research over the years in college and now in graduate school. Yet in the same breath, Diadiun's little crony interjects that even when information does originate in a blog, such as "some of the videos with some of the candidates" as he vaguely mentions, he maintains that the public doesn't really find out about it until it's picked up by the newspapers. Now hold your horses for just a moment. When information originates with newspapers, they should have special rights to it, but when information originates with blogs, the newspapers get to latch on and disseminate it more widely? Really? And did you *pay* the bloggers for those stories? Okay, then you'd better get over that particular complaint.

The point journalists like Diadiun don't seem to understand is that there is, in fact, room for all of us. It's just that those used to claiming the lion's share of power and influence are going to see their sphere reduced in the future. And it should come as no surprise to those of us conversant in issues of feminism, race and class that the big boys at the top merely want to maintain their power. But here's my point. Blogging is often, maybe even usually, not about breaking news. Blogging is not, as it turns out, journalism. Blogging is instantaneous revisionism.

Now, the term "revisionism" may have been turned into a dirty word by the conservative right (those traditionally in power), but that's because it's their version of the story that's being revised. The adage goes that the winners write history. True. They get the first shot. For example in art history, my field, the old vanguard constructed a narrative which is not only euro-centric, but Mediterranean-centric, and which largely leaves out the voices of minority populations and women. That was the first generation of historians, and they were all European men. Now, we're revising history. We're opening it up to include feminist voices, Marxist voices, non-Western voices and the voices of those largely disenfranchised.

Blogging serves a similar purpose. Only it's much more immediate. We don't have to wait for the glass ceiling to crack to have a platform. We don't have to be hired by newspapers to present our interpretations of what's going on. Or to emphasize stories and events that might get short shrift in the mainstream media. And we must be doing a pretty good job of all this revisionism if we have the establishment all up in arms.

Of course, there's plenty of crap out there as well. But if you think the mainstream media is immune to crap, you've obviously never seen Fox news or had the pleasure of having your ears defiled by Rush Limbaugh. And anyway, isn't it immediately suspicious when you see or hear some old white guy try to claim that he has special priority in reporting and interpreting the news? Sends my red flags up a mile high.

Okay, so here's the take away message. We still need journalists who have the ability, training and recourses to gather information in the first place. For an historian, this is the equivalent of working in the archives. But once you've reported your story, it's fair game for alternative voices to offer alternative interpretations and to emphasize alternative points of view. If my advising professor had decided that all of the primary sources he'd gathered, translated and compiled were off limits for the generation of historians that came after him, well we'd be fucked. And our field wouldn't get very far.

So to Ted Diadiun, stop acting like there's some kind of Platonic absolute out there called History or News, to which you and people like you have privileged access. We bloggers don't care about your opinion anyway.


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