On Sept. 28, Comedy Central’s long-running program “The Daily Show” ran a segment with correspondent Jason Jones lampooning the “trench coat, stick-mic journalism” of one Carl Monday, an on-air reporter for WKYC-TV in Cleveland. If you are familiar with the segment, chances are good you had first heard of Monday from the Gawker Media-owned sports blog, Deadspin. In May, Deadspin’s Will Leitch turned Monday’s relentless reports about a college student caught (on tape) masturbating at a public library into an Internet phenomenon.
On Oct. 5, on-again, off-again journalistic enterprise Radar Online posted an “Exclusive” story pointing out that a weblog hawking stories of former Rep. Mark Foley’s advances toward House pages — including the ambiguous e-mails now causing Denny Hastert so much trouble — was not a real blog at all. The weeks-old site was, they wrote, “filled with plagiarized, hastily-assembled posts, which no one seems to have heard of, visited, or linked to before last week.” But this story was hardly exclusive to Radar — political bloggers at Just One Minute, Daily Kos and elsewhere had uncovered all these details the weekend prior.
So these two stories have something in common besides the embarrassing revelation of sexual indiscretions. Consider also the tendency of professional news organizations to lean heavily on their amateur counterparts while failing to give sufficient credit for borrowing their work.
The rise of the blogosphere, and the media establishment’s acclimation to working alongside Internet upstarts, has fostered unprecendented interaction between small content providers, who are often amateurs, and always-professional large content distributors. In news and entertainment, in criticism and promotion, the two work together and against each other in myriad ways, creating spectacles such as the fall of Dan Rather and word-of-blog phenomena like the overnight popularity of Montreal indie rockers The Arcade Fire.
Media organizations largely depend on the blogosphere for commentary and content in the form of additional reporting. They have also experimented with their own blogs, finding varying degrees of success. After several tries, ABC finally has a hit with its scandal sheet called The Blotter. Time has been doing this with its acquisition of AndrewSullivan.com and hiring of Ana Marie Cox, late of Gawker’s Wonkette, as Washington editor of Time.com. The Washington Post has Chris Cillizza reporting as much for his blog, The Fix, as for the actual newspaper. Even Carl Monday has a blog.
Likewise, the blogosphere depends on the major media for stories to criticize or promote. They have experimented with their own media companies, such as Pajamas Media and, of course, Gawker. Bloggers are commentators first, reporters second, and in highly specialized cases such as the Valerie Plame investigation, advanced the story by sheer power of inductive reasoning — and asking questions about Tim Russert that Russert’s colleagues wouldn’t.
While this type of reciprocity is at an all-time high, the rules of each medium do not necessarily translate well to the others. In fact, the establishment media could learn a thing or two from the blogosphere about proper sourcing of information. One principle they would be wise to adopt is what’s known as the “hat tip.”
When it comes to simple entertainment, overt credit is often unnecessary, even undesirable. When SportsCenter anchor Neil Everett mentioned another Deadspin-launched Internet meme — “You’re with me, leather,” an unpromising-sounding pick-up line allegedly used with success by ESPN personality Chris Berman — the whole point was sneaking it onto the air (Tony Kornheiser and TRL’s Damien Fahey are among others who referenced it on-air as well). But it would have cost nothing, and been useful to viewers, for “The Daily Show” to at least flash a screen shot of the Deadspin website.
At Slate, media critic Jack Shafer has been a reliable catcher of “anonymice,” his term for anonymous government officials overquoted by lazy journalists. As Shafer writes, “Washington journalism has become a collaboration between news organizations and official sources.” Less coordinated but just as prevalent is the collaboration between the establishment and insurgent mediaspheres. Frequently, bloggers are the anonymous sources, frequently unwitting ones, and unlike government officials, they would probably like to see their names in print. Either way, information is withheld from the reader. And at the very least, Radar should have acknowledged that its story was no “exclusive.”
By omitting the inspiration for these reports, are Comedy Central and Radar merely saying that bloggers are not important enough to be mentioned? That’s certainly part of it. But they may also be saying that once a factual report hits a known outlet (see bloggers, we’re reading you!) its origin is irrelevant.
It shouldn’t be: Proper credit should be given to sources not necessarily for the glory of the credited, but for the readers to go back and construct their own chain of events. Bloggers frequently give link citations known as a hat tips to the blogs where they found something new and interesting. In this way, readers can trace the evolution of a particular story through multiple blog posts and news repots. Working backward through time, readers can arrive at their own conclusions about a story’s accuracy or noteworthiness.
So let’s make a conjecture: Older reporters who came of age prior to the development of blog journalism are less likely to credit Internet sources that break news first, unless they absolutely have to. Younger reporters, for whom blogs will have always been a staple of their media diet, will more readily concede that independent researchers with websites are doing some of their legwork for them. Producers and editors at “The Daily Show” and Radar may be younger than most of their professional colleagues, but they obviously still fall into the upper bracket. At least Comedy Central doesn’t seem to be removing clips of “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report” from YouTube.
Even so, it is perhaps the fate of the blogger to always get less credit than he or she deserves, because the work they do threatens the professional’s sense of security, to say nothing of importance. As much as individual journalists will write blogs and individual bloggers will be hired by media companies, the uneasy relationship between the blogosphere and the MSM will persist.
Of course, the ego of an uncredited blogger does matter. Because very few of them make a living from their blog, compensation takes the form of status more than money. So as the professional and amateur mediaspheres keep growing together, expect increasing tensions over the unwillingess of print and television outlets to yield a simple tip of the hat.
Don’t let the obscurity of individual bloggers fool you: the blogosphere is more influential than ever. You just can’t always see it.
William Beutler is a blog analyst with New Media Strategies, and writes Blog P.I.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire