Blogs: Personal Internet Newspapers

John Podhoretz explains why the mainstream press is frightened of the New Media and why that’s a good thing:

I’ve been listening to mainstream-media types talk about the terrible threat posed to the news business by one new phenomenon or other since I began my career 22 years ago. The complaint is invariably, and drearily, the same: Whatever is new is bad because it supposedly lowers the historically high standards of the mainstream media. The last two years in particular have seen the explosion of a new medium — the personal Internet newspaper, or blog — that has already and will forever change the way people get their information. This is a thrilling development — unless you are a mainstream-media Big Fish.

The success of the Swift-boat vets’ ads is the tale of the triumph of the nation’s alternative media. The mainstreamers didn’t want to touch the story with a 10-foot pole, and they didn’t. But the alternative media did. Amateur reporters and fact-gatherers offered independent substantiation for some of the charges. It turned out the criticisms of the Swifties weren’t quite so easily dismissed. Because there was new information coming out every day, there was more and more to discuss on talk radio and cable news channels. And the story just wouldn’t go away, because millions of people were interested in it.

This democratization of the news is clearly a good thing, if only because it increases available sources of information in a democracy. But it isn’t a good thing if you’re a proud part of an Establishment whose authority is being eroded and whose control of the marketplace is being successfully challenged.

What these Establishment-media types will never do — what they can never do — is consider the possibility that the 24-hour news cycle and the rise of talk radio and the Internet are all positive developments. And I would argue they can’t consider that possibility — not only because their platforms are slowly sliding into the quicksand, but because these alternative phenomena have been of great benefit to conservative ideas, anti-liberal attitudes and Republican politicians. They hate the Swift-boat story. Hate it with a passion. Some of it’s based in genuine conviction. Some of it’s patently ideological. And some of it’s based in fear. They are worried the bell is beginning to toll for them, and they’re right.

I continue to believe that the rise of the blosphere, just as with talk radio, does not take away from the mainstream press. This is not a zero sum game. We still need full-time journalists to report the news. The rise of an amateur analytical corps does not diminish that, although it does spread the agenda setting power.

Tom Oliphant was on the Don Imus show this morning talking about how, in the old days, the Swifties would have been dismissed because their story isn’t easily corroborated. He believed that is a good thing. I disagree. While the mischief-making power of unsubstantiated rumors getting widespread attention is undeniable, the partisan nature of the blogosphere, combined with the diffusion of geniune expertise unavailable to regular journalists, virtually ensures that the truth will get out rather quickly. If the Swifties’ story was complete nonsense, that fact would have been established in 48 hours–tops–and the story would have died. It has only survived as long as it has because there was merit to many of their charges and because of the murkiness of other aspects of the story, which requires that people keep digging.

The mainstream press is going nowhere. Indeed, the power of citizen journalists to participate should, if anything, make the pie bigger. Blogs and other participatory outlets make paying attention to the news more engaging. That’s a good thing.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Media
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. carpeicthus says:

    Are you really willing to argue that anything that stays in the blogosphere and media for more than a few days automatically has merit? That’s a heck of a slippery slope. I’m sure most of the conservative bloggers would be dismayed at your acceptance of Bush TANG scandals and such.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I’m not sure how it would constitute a slippery slope?

    At any rate, no, not exactly. Some charges are harder to ferret out than others because documentation is scarce. But the press has so little knowledge of affairs military that they don’t know where to look. The idea that, for example, one could verify the circumstances behind an award by reviewing the award citation is laughable. Nobody charged that Kerry DIDN’T GET AWARDED the medals, merely that the circumstances were phony. Looking at the medal citation wouldn’t tell you anything.

  3. Meezer says:

    To me the value of blogs are many, but the main one is that it brings so many experts on many different subjects together. Could I, eventually, ferret out the information myself? Posibly, but it would take so long that the number of items so checked would be miniscule. In many cases, such as the Left-repeated recent labor statistics, I know so little that I don’t even know the right questions to ask. fortunately for me, several economic bloggers do.