Thursday, April 17, 2008

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring -- ?

Somewhere in the tension between these two commentaries there something worth teasing out. Comment the first, by Matt Yglesias:

There's been something a bit odd about scanning the news all day and seeing all these accounts of media people lecturing the audience that, contrary to the opinions of the people who watched the debate last night, that the performance of the debate moderators was, in fact, very good. If voters don't think the debate focused on important, interesting topics, then too bad for them! If voters don't think the debate was informative, then too bad for them! The press, once again, gives itself a standing ovation and that's what matters.

On an unrelated note, I've been in about a million conversations navel-gazing conversations about the decline of "old media" like newspapers, magazines, and network television and never once has anyone suggested that declining audience might be in any way related to the quality of the product. Everyone knows that it's the public's duty to read newspapers, whether they find them useful and informative or not.
And then there's comment the second, by Andrew Keen:
What a bloody citizen-farce. The 61 year-old "citizen-blogger" who revealed Obama's small town America remarks to a closed group of San Francisco donors is called Mayhill Fowler. She "works" for OffTheBus.Net, the citizen-newspaper which obviously takes advantage of clueless alter-kuckers like Fowler for their "news". Fowler, of course, shouldn't have revealed Obama's off-the-record remarks. But then she's a self-acknowledged dabbler rather than a trained journalist, isn't paid for her work and has no traditional editor at the exploitative OffTheBus. In the end, the New York Times tells us, she decided to go public with the grenade of a story after talking with her husband who told her to publish it because it was "newsworthy."
So Yglesias offers a vivid illustration of the now classic "new media" criticism of "old media:" that the establishment press corps is rotten, corrupt, incompetent, infinitely self-regarding, blindly conformist, and in all ways useless. Its pretensions to professionalism are a mockery, an entry barrier protecting the rot. Meanwhile, Keen points out that "bittergate" is traceable to "new media" in the form of an unpaid, untrained, non-professional Jane six-pack with a blog who has shown just as vividly how and why "a little learning is a dangerous thing."

I would like to believe, along with Keen, that a professional journalist answering to a professional editor would have eschewed this non-story. I would like to believe, along with Yglesias, that "new media" in all its free-wheeling manifestations will curb, if not counter, the excesses and abuses of establishment media.

I'd like to believe a lot of things. For now I am going to clutch my guns and my anti-religious beliefs and await clarity.

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