Friday, July 28, 2006

Blogger navel-gazing

Spot was at Drinking Liberally Thursday night. There are usually several bloggers in attendance, and Thursday night was no exception. The bloggers there will remain nameless, partly to save some of Spotty’s friends the embarrassment. After talking the usual shop-talk stuff, the subject turned really serious: what is the role of bloggers in the universe?

Paraphrasing here a little, the consensus was that the MSM is dying and that bloggers would stand on the corpse and crow. Sort of like after the nuclear war, the only thing living will be the cockroaches. It was not an especially humble crowd. Spot has a slightly different take on things.

Spot read or heard somewhere that the three most numerous blogger categories are: lawyers (gulp), experts (think Juan Cole and PZ Myers), and political insiders (think, if you must, Michael Brodkorb). The first two categories are really opinion bloggers (as are most of the rest, too) who do very little original, first-person or sourced and vetted news reporting. It is the political insiders for the most part who get the scoops once in a while. And they get the scoops because they can run with things, and publish them without getting them past an editor or fact checker. Is this good? Spot says it’s fine for getting a story or started, to see if it has legs, so to speak, but it can be really bad if the public bases it opinions on the unverified work of bloggers.

One recent example of this involves not a blogger but a journalist. Apparently, Judy Miller, formerly of the New York Times, did a lot of her Iraq WMD reporting on the basis of unverified or unverifiable sources like Curveball. There was undoubtedly less scrutiny of the administration’s case for war in Iraq because you could read Judy’s case for it in the New York Times. If the NYT can fall into the trap of reporting unproven – and even untrue – facts, how much more likely is it that bloggers will do that?

How likely is it that bloggers as a community will develop a code of ethics and reporting standards? Very unlikely, at least until they start getting paid and have some turf to protect. And how likely is that? Well, on Minnesota Public Television’s Almanac tonight, Michael Brodkorb was asked if there was an economic model for bloggers, a way for them to get paid. He replied, again paraphrasing, if there was, he hadn’t discovered it yet.

Spotty says that the rumor mill part of the blogosphere is probably approaching its zenith. It will always have a role in a networked world, but it will never replace solid reporting. In fact, the blogosphere, always nipping at the heels of the MSM, will probably make it better.

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