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August 11, 2007

More on blogging and journalism -- and trust . . .

John Stoehr
Does anyone else find it ironic that we're conducting a discussion of the trustworthiness of blogs by means of a blog? If I'm to believe some of the statements I see here, I shouldn't believe the statements I see here.

It's also ironic that I find myself playing the role of devil's advocate/apologist for blogs, since I very seldom look at blogs for the kind of journalism -- or even the kind of topics -- that I would expect to find in a newspaper. About the only significant exception was during the early war period, when I believe I learned more about the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq through firsthand blogs than through the mainstream US media.

Personally, I suspect that the reports of the death of the Press are exaggerated, but I certainly share Mike Boehm's concerns. I would suggest that "How much is information worth?" is not the only question. We need to also ask, "How will we know?" Trust is central. Without claiming these questions have been resolved by any means, I note that many people buy freely from web sites and ebay who wouldn't have dreamed of it five or ten years ago.

Steve Durbin

Dear Steve,
You've noted this a couple of times, so I wanted to let you know we're listening. You're right, it is ironic. Or it would be if we were talking about all bloggers. But we're not.

Many bloggers, for instance Terry Teachout and Alex Ross, are as good at what they do as anyone who works in conventional newspapers. There are others, as Teachout has pointed out numerous times, who are not part of the media machine, but who nevertheless offer insight and careful commentary on music, visual arts, fiction, etc.

The bloggers Ivins had in mind, and I would guess that Mike Boehm takes issue with, are the armchair journalists who opine from their keyboards but don't do, and wouldn't know how to do, the work of shoe-leather journalism.

I presume Molly and Mike don't mind a little pontification from bloggers since people have been shouting into the void in the letters-to-the-editor pages and the op-ed pages of newspapers for a long time. That's what Americans do really well. We let you know what we're thinking.

The concern, which I share with Mike and the late, great Molly, is the apparent movement -- or least the abundant yammering right now, hopefully faddish -- regarding bloggers, and other "citizen journalists," ushering in some kind of new era of journalism, especially political journalism.

But voicing an opinion based in facts gathered by reporters on the street does not a journalist make.

I agree with you that analysis, commentary, observation and insight are valuable and I applaude and encourage each. If more people offer intelligent commentary on the communities they live in, more power to them. At risk of pointing out the obvious, that's what we do here at Flyover: We offer our perspective on the arts and arts journalism from our vantage points in the American Outback. Granted, some of us might offer some reporting but nothing like what we do for the newspapers we write for.

Again, writing an opinion is different from reporting the facts, but not too different. And as Ivins noted, opinion writing should be approached with the same schemata (though I'm sure she wouldn't go anywhere near that word; I'm not sure I should go near it either) used by the reporter covering a seven-car pile-up on the highway -- balanced perspectives, established credibility, accuracy, fairness, piercing the veil if need be, being able to impartially see if a veil exists in the first place that might need piercing, etc.

Writing opinion is about providing clarity, synthesis and, ideally, about extracting a clear sense of meaning from the ambiguities of reality for the benefit of others, not oneself.

Molly Ivins always gave voice to the issues most important to those who had no voice. That's what made her special. That's what separates her from the Blogger Legion. That's why people, many who shared her sympathies and points-of-view, found they could trust her.

That said, this report suggests that blogging may be a fast fading trend, as least among the quick-hit opinion-mongers, as Molly might say.

Time will tell.

With sincerity and respect,

Posted by John Stoehr at August 11, 2007 6:18 AM


John, thanks for the thoughtful response. I've replied on the original post in order to include Gary Panetta's comment.

Posted by: Steve Durbin at August 12, 2007 8:19 PM