Home Editorials Beware the Blogosphere

Beware the Blogosphere

38
3

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son. The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jugjub bird, and shun the frumious Bandersnatch!”

Lewis Carroll’s absurd poem danced through my head as a University of Alaska Anchorage panel discussion, entitled “Whistleblowers, Traitors and Free Speech: The Duty of News Media Today,” took a brief turn off topic and shot straight off a cliff.

It came when newly-minted Anchorage Press editor Matt Tunseth chose to lump all journalistic activity on the internet into a single pile of fail:

Unfortunately, we have all this information out there, but it’s not fact checked; it’s not anything, for the most part. And I guess that’s what I see the role of journalists these days is we should be the people that are taking this stuff in and presenting it to people and saying ‘We’ve looked this up. We’ve decided that this is actually true information. And trust us on this.’ And the problem with the ‘Blogosphere’ and all that thing is people can go out there now and, sure, they can get the story first, but nobody cares about getting it right.

That’s a lot of absolutes being tossed around.

The Jubjub bird now tweets, and I’m guessing the Bandersnatch lives under a bridge in a sub-Reddit somewhere. The antiquated term “Blogosphere” conjures the same reaction I would have if a friend announced weekend plans to “casually peruse the World Wide Web.” The single word reduces a vast, online ecosystem down to a static, scary, and easily definable monster: a 21st century Jabberwocky.

The terrifying “Blogosphere,” burbling with eyes of flame, is generally used only by those seeking to avoid the hell out of it. Often, the cumbersome existence of all-things-online is belabored most vociferously by the dwindling population in print media. Tunseth, for instance, assigned the universally-applied “bad journalism” to new media, writ large:

Because we’re competing with all these websites, we have to be online, we have to be putting videos up, we have to be putting photos up, but we have to do this all with fewer, fewer people. And this is how we’re having a hard time competing with the independent people because they don’t have to go to their bosses and say “Oh, I need a video camera….” They don’t have that problem. They just have an iPhone. They go to an event. They shoot it. And it seems like it would be real easy for us to do that to, and that’s what our bosses say: “Hey, why don’t you guys just do that?” Well, I’ve already got a notebook in my hand. I’ve already got a pencil in my hand. How am I supposed to also video? You know what I mean? How am I supposed to go back to the office and write this story while I’m also editing the video? You know, it’s impossible.

The morning he said this, I went to the panel discussion, grabbed the audio with my little Sony recorder, snapped a couple pictures with my iPhone (which doubled as my notepad), went home, transferred the audio to my computer, adjusted levels, edited audio clips, and started typing a story. When I have a draft ready, it goes online to our private group page, where my colleagues edit, fact-check, and make suggestions as to what’s right – or wrong – about it. Anyone on our editorial board can put a hold on a piece if they find something objectionable about it.

Often, I’ll have content to upload to Youtube or a podcast to stream on our Soundcloud page. When I’m done, I put together a cover image on Photoshop. Then, I’ll enter the text on the website, add the search engine optimization (SEO) information, schedule it to publish, and set up times to post it to Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus via Hootsuite.

This is often repeated two, three, or more times a day. I’m also the content manager for Alaska Commons and go through this with many of our other contributors’ posts. It’s a full-time job. I do it because I love it. And I get pretty sick and tired when print journos reduce the effort to the same folks that end up in our Meme Killers feature.

It’s not impossible. It’s the new reality. Technology changes things. Newsrooms need to get that.

The internet is not one-size-fits-all. While it may seem convenient to reduce it down to a box to tuck away in a closet somewhere, that reaction promotes a certain institutional egotism suggesting a sort of journalistic exceptionalism in print media. That is a claim with a rich history, but shrinking merit.

Not everything on the internet is created equal. Just as not all established news outlets are. After all, one assumes that the Anchorage Daily News has editors to root out factual errors.

Read Paul Jenkins and get back to me on that one.

Established news outlets sanction and, by effect, endorse the same unverified, factually inept, confirmation bias that Tunseth admonishes the “Blogosphere” for.

The “Blogosphere” is just an easier target; faceless, nondescript, and mostly harmless to poke at when comparing it to established media outlets (except Fox News, many print journalists are quick to point out):

What we are supposed to do, and this is why journalism is important compared to just somebody out there with a camera phone or just writing on their blog, is we have to at least say who our sources are. And we have to say ‘this is where we got this information, this is where this all comes from.’ We can’t just rely on conjecture and hearsay… whereas, somebody else who is out there who is just calling themselves a journalist and just writing randomly, they can say whatever they want. And there’s nobody to hold them accountable; there’s no editors to say ‘hey, where did you get this from?’

Tunseth seems to believe that the “Blogosphere” is a frolic through a garden absent of scrutiny, personal responsibility, or pride for one’s work.

I find that offensive.

Journalism is a standard that one chooses to uphold. It’s an ethic, not a medium. We choose whether or not we wish to pursue virtue and knowledge, or add to the soup of confirmation bias present both online and in print. You can’t beat some of the top notch journalism exhibited in the “Blogosphere” on a national site like PolicyMic or, locally, at Steve Aufrecht’s “What Do I Know?” blog. I’d place either above any 24-hour cable news channel. And way the hell above anything Jenkins has written at the Anchorage Daily News.

University of Alaska Anchorage Journalism and Public Communications Chair Paola Banchero, also a panelist, expressed her belief that “verifying information” should serve as the prime component of journalism, rather than the medium. I agree with her, but I’m not sure that Tunseth and others of his ilk are on the same page.

Verifying information is an incredibly important role, but it’s a hard lesson to learn for an industry firmly rooted in an institutional egotism that exalts certain, accredited people as the gatekeepers of truth; a class somehow immune to multitasking or adaptation.

That big, dumb internet is fertile ground for both calcified stupidity and unfettered genius alike. It depends on how you click; just as it depends on what newspaper or channel you view. You can reject the internet as a monster. But, eventually, the vorpal blade goes snicker-snack and the rest of us go galumphing away from your dumb, monosyllabic assessment of the world we live in.

John Aronno is a co-founder, managing editor, and award winning political writer at Alaska Commons. Aronno has had his work featured in the Huffington Post, the Anchorage Press, the Alaska Dispatch, and the Rachel Maddow Show, and is listed among the state’s top reporters on the Washington Post’s “The Fix.” He writes the weekly column “On Politics” for Alaska Commons. Aronno lives in Anchorage, Alaska with his wife, Heather Aronno, and a lot of pets.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I agree with you but I feel left out of your column. Just because I didn’t bash bloggers. Here is more verbiage culled out of early drafts of my book, after the part where I declare the mass media dead: What about bloggers, you say? Don’t they live or die by web hits? Okay, maybe some of them still have such an aspiration, but is it really everybody they want to reach, or just a segment of those who are potentially like mnded? Plus they never really had the opportunity to gain mass media skills of the kind the advertising industry and the media practicioners developed in the last century. Where would they have learned them? At least for now, the business is driven by advertising, and advertising is all about targeting now.
    I suppose I am putting too nasty a face on it. Maybe the media business will get beyond the advertising paradigm. Plus I am sure new skills are being evolved. It’s probably going to be looked back on as an exciting time. So is 1971. It didn’t feel that way at the time.
    What the hell was going on? There was nothing any more that wasn’t deceptively named. Persuasion gone totally out of control, just like Phil Dick had seen it, in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, or, long before that, as Orwell had, in 1984. Civic discourse was dying back and this crap was filling the vacuum. The Law of Nonsense in full display.

  2. Sorry to leave you out, Steve. But I found your speech thoroughly informative, interesting, and entertaining. That makes for a boring article. 😉 Can’t tell you how much I look forward to the full memoir, though. Make sure you get around to writing the whole thing before moving on to the next project!

  3. A problem hinted at in the author’s post but not fully or appropriately addressed is the criteria that constitutes a blog versus — what? — everything else? What makes a blog not journalism and why does journalism have to adapt to an established structure? Could it be we’ve discovered where another wing of the aristocracy has tucked itself away and rooted itself?

    I wouldn’t consider this a blog as it doesn’t seem to make a single overarching point badly and is comprised of multiple people with a broad assortment of opinions, interests and perspectives — though with a thick accent to the left of center. But that is only my perspective. I’m only trying to apply my personal opinion of what I accept as journalism and what I reject as propaganda or self aggrandizement. Maybe that’s why there is a “Blogosphere?” So that we don’t have to burden ourselves with making a clinical distinction. I’d wager that’s how most in the declining print industry feel about it. We live in the gray.

What do you think?