Over lunch the other day, my colleague Paul Niwa tossed out a provocative theory. He suggested deep cuts in the newspaper industry could soon turn the tables on print reporters, forcing them after decades of leading the pack to chase stories broken by their broadcast brethren. It’s all, he reasons, a matter of how many reporters each medium can afford to keep on the street.
As an old newspaper guy, I’m not ready to cede the terrain of real reporting to the blow-dried boys. But if the blogosphere is a logical extension of print, some of what Niwa predicts is already coming to pass.
Remember when rip-and-read on morning radio drew every print reporters’ ire? Each morning they’d turn on drive-time radio to hear their stories presented, usually unattributed, as “breaking” news.
It still happens, but in its way, the tables have turned. Today’s blogosphere is something akin to the rip-and-read radio of the 21st century, though at its best it comes closer to the Paul Harvey variety, with some style and story mixed in, than to pure headline news (more Twitter’s domain). Most bloggers do credit and link to their sources. And I imagine most of us believe that we add something by throwing in a dash of personality, a little attitude or a sprinkling of analysis. Still, there’s no escaping that like radio news, we’re more often than not giving the time-challenged an abbreviated version of someone else’s hard work.
If I’m causing my fellow writers on True/Slant to bristle, let me say that this is a “staff,” as such, with major creds, big-time experiences for big-time papers, magazines and television programs. But most of us won’t be counting on True/Slant paychecks to put nightly meals on our family’s tables anytime soon. So we post fast, cheeky and sometimes raw. It’s intriguing and a bit dizzying.
At times, I feel like I’ve dropped into an urban open house, a cocktail party of voice and musing, opinion and politics from all over the ideological spectrum (an exception in the blogosphere). I enjoy that. But even more so, I like to stumble across original reporting, like, for example, some of the health care work on Rick Ungar’s “Policy Page.”
That reporting is still the exception. But I suspect in time it will be the new breed of reporters, rather than the stylists or pundits, who emerge as the trend-setters — that the future of a really robust blogosphere lies with those who dig, particularly as the diggers of traditional news get pink slips or tire of “doing more with less.”
We do live in a world of nearly endless reports, records and documents online and hearings on the airwaves. If I.F. Stone could turn Washington D.C. on its head in the last century by shunning public events and turning toward public documents, why shouldn’t more bloggers, with the aid of the Internet, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, do the same?
I’m among those still adjusting to this new environment. As a writer, the freedom is phenomenal, the temptation to pick low-hanging fruit sometimes too strong. As a reader, I’ve stumbled across saucy slices of life and bits about baseball, glimpsed real-time reports of suicide bombings, and seen snippets of Saturday Night Live on YouTube and the realtime comedy called Congress on CSPAN.
Often I’m still too impatient and too busy to click through all these posts. I want to go to a conventional news site, get the headlines and move on. But there is something fresh about this cyberspace community on the fringe of news that, though still sorting itself out, will, I suspect, continue to grow in its role and influence.