Thursday, February 01, 2007

This Is Big. Really Big.

Yesterday, thanks to my new BFF, Tata, from Poor Impulse Control and Agitprop, I was sort of invited to a New York City bloggers seminar held by our local NBC affiliate, WNBC-TV.

Now, my invitation came a few days too late (for security purposes and to keep Ann Coulter from mucking up the proceedings, one had to RSVP by January 24), but I did manage to get Simply Left Behind on the list for future events. Which turned out to be an important step.

Obviously, I missed the seminar last night, held by WNBC in Conan O'Brien's studio.

However, this morning saw some intriguing developments. First, this e-mail from Erin Monteiro, Interactive Content Specialist for WNBC:
Our commitment to you
was one we will not falter on. As I said, YOU have expanded our media universe. And we truly believe your coverage can compliment ours, to the benefit of our entire community.[...]

Many of your blogs have broken stories, been the first with updates, pictures or videos, or offered a fresh perspective on an ongoing story. Others have had a unique perspective on life in this city. And we want to give you something you probably haven't gotten much from "MSM" before -- credit. Credit on air and on our site for the stories you own. You have your blogs on the pulse of this city, and I look forward to working with you all in the future as we take this leap together.
Well, now, me, a former radio jock and could-be bubble-headed bleach blonde newsreader suddenly had all sorts of paranoid delusions of grandeur. Millions of people watch these shows. Maybe I need to start videopodcasting again?

You can watch the seminar here: New York City Bloggers Seminar. Currently, 144 blogs are signed up with this program, from the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal and Time Magazine's Looking Around, to some familiar names to anyone who uses my blogroll: Dependable Renegade, The Gothamist, and of course, Poor Impulse Control.

I thanked Erin and NBC with the following commentary:

You probably got a bunch of replies to this e-mail, but I just wanted to chime in and say thank you.

I know Rob Morrison is intrigued with blogging, and it's a step in the right direction, I think, that bloggers and "regular" media have a meeting of the minds about news.

I take my blog seriously, as partisan as it is. My few journalism courses (NYU, mid-70s, William Burrows, among other) taught me the value of honest reporting, if not perfectly accurate reporting. I don't have the resources for that, so I comment on stories filed by you guys, among other outlets. Too often, bloggers become an afterthought for news organizations, a way to get a point of view into print or on the air and still maintaining an objective perspective for the quoting medium.

Ideally, in a perfect world, Blogtopia (© Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo) and the MSM would create a feedback loop that would take our news out of the echo chamber that both sides of an issue create, and give readers and viewers an honest, even-handed look at both sides.

(I just realized how much I have to say on this, and I promised myself I'd keep it brief, so I'll flesh out these thoughts on my blog, Simply Left Behind, later today.)

So I just wanted to thank you for reaching out to us, and I hope that we can all gain a better understanding of what each of us is trying to accomplish.

So let me flesh out those thoughts: Here's the problem with the blogosphere in general.

Let's say I stumble across a story (let's use Joe Biden's gaffe as an example. Sorry, Erin, even a Google search couldn't find it and break it. It gets picked up by another blogger that prowls here, let's say Blogger X, who excerpts my story to get to the nugget of what Biden said, but loses some of the context.

Ever play Telephone? Then you know what happens next. Even tho Blogger X linked to my story (which he would do if he's ethical. Not everyone is.), most people who read it on his blog read the edited version. So they pass on that story, but they edit it even further ("Blogger X reports today that Joe Biden all but called Barack Obama "a house n*****.")

You want a prime example of how this works? Go Google "Paul Wellstone Memorial." Read how the right wing spun that story, versus what really happened at the service. Here's the catch: the vast majority of the people who commented on the event, good AND bad (but in particular, the bad commentary), never even bothered to grab the video of it from the C-Span website (all four hours of it) and focused instead on a few minutes excerpted on local news stations and on blogs and news websites worldwide. Certainly they were never at the event.

You'll notice that this "echo chamber" isn't just limited to the blogosphere. It leaches into the Main Stream Media (and kudos to Erin and WNBC for using that term). For example, when President Clinton was being harangued almost daily with innuendo and gossipy little "Juanita Broaddrick" broadsides, the New York Times, no no!, did not report that story.

But they did cover it anyway, by using the trope of how a rumour gets passed along as news, thus ensuring that they validated the story, not as a total piece of bullshit (if you go back, you'll see that at no point did the Times put their rather massive reporting staff into high gear to prove or disprove the story), but as a "Gee, this is what other people are saying about..." Relativistic truth is fine and dandy for the opinion pages. Hell, you read it here often enough. But for the front page of the Paper of Record, that's utter nonsense to admit.

Yes, the story itself was factual, but that's like covering the debate about creationism without mentioning that there is absolutely no proof to defend that theory, where evolution has more proof than the "theory" of electricity! (Try turning on your microwave with prayer.)

Too, local news stations have it even tougher, thus rely on the echo chamber even more substantively. In order to get to the stuff that gets people to tune in (blood and sex), while performing their...what's the term again the FCC uses? Oh yes..."public interest" programming duties, they necessarily give short shrift to, you know, stories that might actually matter, like why there are more bankruptcies in America now than there were under the old bankruptcy law and more bankruptcies by far under President Bush than under Clinton.

Add to that the fact that the news division budgets are constantly under strain (watching the morning news, no disrespect to the news team, is like watching one giant informercial, with the occasional news story headlined for me), which means reporters have to be sent only to those stories that are slam dunks to get viewers: fires, homicides, rapes (preferably all three), or visits to town by some public figure or celebrity.

I'm only glad I live in New York, or else this last might really torque my thong. Celebrities and public figures are a dime a dozen here.

I don't blame the local news for only occasionally covering "The Worst Landlords" and doing one-line follow ups, or some such story. Neither do I blame them for taking wire service copy (vetted, I'm sure, by the national news division, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the corporate magnate that owns the network and his entertainment division) and repeating it without checking facts first. The entire staff is overloaded, and so lazy reporting is forgivable in the face of not having nearly enough resources to do proper reporting.

But there are quality of life issues and there are two sides to any story. It's nice to see that WNBC has decided to enlist bloggers of all stripes, right, left, center, media-focused, sports-focused, celebrity-focused, and just plain old mouthy bastards like me, to help bring stories you might not otherwise see on TV to your attention.

Good luck, Erin, WNBC. I'll do what I can to help.

Now, there are some bloggers who have already posted their impressions of the event. One in particular, Jill at Brilliant At Breakfast, has some snarky comments to make about the event, and since she and I share a love of snark (as well as my Mets), I refer you to her to get her impressions of the whole shebang, as well as Tata's very funny Letter To Sree.

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