Wednesday, April 27, 2005

LA Press Club Hosts Bloggers and the MSM

For my inaugural post on this blog, I decided to write about what I saw and heard at a gathering hosted by the LA Press Club at the LA Atheltic Club. As with many other people, I was alerted to this event and inspired to attend by the Blogfather himself, Hugh Hewitt. As the Press Club's posted invitation indicates, the purpose of the event was to explore the effects of blogs upon the MSM in general and in particular upon such icons as the LA Times. For anyone who has read Blog, Hugh's views on this topic are well known if not legendary. If you're not familiar, get the book. Like the best blogs, Hugh's book affirms that brevity is the soul of wit without sacrificing substance in the effort. But I digress; a full Blog flog will follow.

Aside from the opportunity to meet some of the best bloggers out there, I was most interested in this event to witness first hand two things: 1)The reaction of the crowd and 2) How the MSM would represent itself.

With respect to item (1), Hugh had wondered aloud, perhaps rhetorically, whether the crowd would "boo and hiss" in the manner he had experienced at the Los Angeles Festival of books. I would say that the crowd numbered between 50 and 75 people and seemed pretty positive and supportive of blogs. During the Q&A session, the barbs tossed from the audience were aimed primarily at the MSM in the person of Bob Sipchen who is the Sunday Opinion editor at the LA Times. Nothing nasty or viscious, just pointed questions on the MSM's position in the new world of information. This kind of civil exchange of ideas stands in stark contrast to the MoveOn-inspired shrill foolishness and stupidity that Hugh experienced on Monday night. Based on Hugh's remarks in his blog, I was half-expecting at least some MoveOn-style nonsense, but I'll have to live with the disappointment.

But when it came to my second objective, observing the MSM's self-defense, I was not disappointed. Bob Sipchen was the point man for this, and in his brief remarks made some statements that were striking for what they revealed about the mindset of the media old guard. Drawing upon the Grey Lady battleship motif, he admitted that in the past large newspapers like the LAT did act like battleships that plowed ahead oblivious to their surroundings and feeling immune to detractors. He compared these detrators to people in small boats flinging dead fish at the seemingly impervious sides of the mighty dreadnought on Spring Street. He acknowledged that the advent and explosion of the blogosphere had changed all that, but tellingly did not elaborate on how he perceived the changes to be manifesting themselves. Bob acknowleged and applauded the leading role of the blogosphere in exposing the "forged documents" (his words) of Rathergate, but moments later declared that a primary advantage of old-fashioned reporters over bloggers is the former's role as "BS detectors". Huh? Where were these detectors when Free Republic, Little Green Footballs, and Powerline began the charge on Rathergate? Where were they when Captain Ed began spreading the word on the Canadian government's Adscam scandle? Has he forgotten about Eason Jordan? Bob also posited the theory that bloggers could be more susceptible than traditional reporters to outside influence from corporate "sponsors". He used the example of the unflattering blog chatter on the continuing troubles of General Motors; the idea was that GM would lean on selected bloggers to change their opinions and voila, a new image is born. Like the "BS detectors", this concept also ignores the facts of recent events. Revelations about undisclosed financial ties have damaged the reputations of blogs (and writers) across the politcal spectrum from the election campaingn of John Thune to Armstrong Williams to DailyKos. Many prominent bloggers have attested to the speed with which the blogosphere pounces on factual errors and inconsistencies, and the cases above illustrate how there are really are no secrets; eventually someone spills the beans on "secret" deals. To me it is inconceivable that a blogger could bow to this theortical commercial pressure without the phoniness of the position and the impropriety of the relationship both being revealed for all the world to see.

Despite his statements seeming to acknowledge the nature of the information revolution (or reformation in Hugh's words), Bob Sipchen's comments together indicate that the media old guard is unwilling or unable to accept the truth of the fundamental changes underway. To them, questions about the advances of the blogosphere seem to end up with "Yeah, but..." as they continue to defend the perceived preeminence of dinosaurs like the LAT and NYT. This stubbornness can only exacerbate their decline.

Best Lines Of the Evening: Mickey Kaus. In less than one minute Mickey fired off such zingers as "I agree that it would be a shame if traditional newspapers closed down, just not the LA Times" and "The LA Times is like the Lands End catalog of newspapers. They think they are a newspaper, but they're not changing fast enough."

Gagger of the Evening: Bob Sipchen. I couldn't quite hear the question from the audience, but it was something about the quality of LAT columnists, with a reference to Steve Lopez (think Nick Coleman goes west). Bob's "praise": "Steve is strong voice". Yeah, so is Howard Dean.

UPDATE: A belated welcome to Hugh Hewitt readers! Thanks to Hugh for the plug. Sorry for the delayed response; long work hours this week and an energy-sapping cold torpedoed my blogging the past couple of days.

8 Comments:

At 6:10 AM, Blogger Tom said...

Off to a good start Eric! Congrats on the new blog.

I think the future of blogging is still up in the air. At present, most news-type blogs don't report "new" news, but comment on news from MSM articles (either print or on-line). In this environment, blogs are able to quickly ferret out mistrepresentations/half-truths/errors quickly by taking advantage of reader expertise. But what is the future going to look like if/when our traditional news sources (e.g., newspaper reporters) begin to either migrate to other jobs or move elsewhere?

That will be a different world of blogs that we have now, perhaps one in which blog-reporters quickly report on what they've observed, with others either augmenting or disputing. IMO, it will be much more difficult for such a reporter to make biased statements without quickly being considered a poor reporter and loosing their credibility and/or job. With any luck, we'll wind up with news that is just that--objective reporting of the events without the typical slant that comes with it these days. Commentary and opinion have their place, but I prefer to hear/read the facts first and form my own opinion, as I'm sure most others do too.

Best wishes for you and your blog.

 
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