Blogs, Journalism, Misconceptions Or, The Things Athenae Does With Her Weekends

I spent the past four days in Madison, Wisconsin, where I went to school, attending this.

Of particular interest to me on this return trip, both in the general speeches and on the panels I was able to get into, was that shiny new Interweb thingy, the blog.

As ever, actual blogger participation in discussions about blogging was scarce and the irony of journalism criticizing any new medium for not establishing credibility could have been cut with a cleaver. It wasn’t so much that the journalists and public relations specialists (now there’s a trade that can look itself in the mirror each day) didn’t talk about the self-serving nature of their criticism, it’s that they truly didn’t seem to see that that facet existed.

Case in point. About halfway through this panel, Owen Ullman, deputy managing editor for news at USA Today, opined that the problem with blogs was that no one knew who was behind them. He described, with a sort of touching helplessness, a huge mass of “noise” on the Internet which it is impossible for journalists to sort through. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but his overall opinion of blogs was that we were irresponsible, wild and crazy, fly-by-night electronic graffiti artists who seem to think they have some right to the label of journalist. We have to pay attention to blogs, he sighed, because they’re “out there,” but he left no doubt he found the whole thing distasteful and harmful to journalism.

At this point Mr. Athenae was removing sharp objects from my periphery and needling the panel about its reluctance to discuss corporate ownership of media and the deletrious effect that had on newsgathering. Newsrooms are shrinking, he said, young reporters get paid squat, but the Internet is the problem?

Thankfully, somebody was there talking sense. Neal Ulevich, a Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer and (full disclosure) dear friend and hero of mine, snarkily observed that “a bigger problem is whether somebody says he’s a journalist when he’s really a political hack running a gay escort service on the side.” (Note to the Internet at large: stop stealing photos off Neal’s site. He notices and it’s not nice.)

Scott Cohn of CNBC stood up and said, essentially, that if USA Today was pissed off about having to quote blogs, why don’t they just go out there and get the stories themselves? At which I leaned over and asked Mr. Athenae if he’d mind my taping a picture of Scott to our bedroom wall.

Following the panel, I asked Mr. Ullman, who was quite courteous and willing to chat, whether he was aware that most of the top-tier political bloggers on both sides of the spectrum are no longer anonymous, and some (like Kos, Glenn Reynolds and Ass Missile) never have been. He was not. I asked if he’d mind telling me which blogs he read regularly.

None really, he said, but he’s been meaning to get to it.


further observations on a weekend of navel-gazing to follow