The last 4-5 days have been a wild ride with the bloggers, Dan Rather, 60 Minutes, CBS, Bush memo debacle. The issue touches key elements that have influenced the rise of participatory journalism: mainstream media’s credibility, the power of collaboration in a distributed media ecosystem, and the passion/obsessions of the audience. This isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened, but a lot of eyes are on this one.
Here’s quick snapshot of our favorite quotes from a seemingly endless supply of reflection and commentary about this experience, from both sides of the new media ecosystem:
No Disputing It: Blogs Are Major Players
Netizen’s late-night post questioning CBS claims about Bush’s service spreads at warp speed.
by Peter Wallsten, Los Angeles Times
"It was amazing Thursday to watch the documents story go from FreeRepublic.com, a bastion of right-wing lunacy, to Drudge to the mainstream media in less than 12 hours,” said Jim Jordan, a strategist for independent Democratic groups opposed to Bush.
“That’s not to say the documents didn’t deserve examination. But apparently the entire thing was cooked up by a couple of amateurs on Free Republic. The speed with which it moved was breathtaking.”
By Friday, articles in The Times, the Washington Post and other news outlets were quoting some analysts raising questions about the CBS documents, and others saying it was impossible to judge the memos’ authenticity without seeing the originals....
Media experts said the role of the bloggers illustrated a significant development in the relationship between mainstream news and the still-nascent phenomenon of blogging.
This was the first time, some said, that the Web logs were engaging in their own form of investigative journalism — and readers, they warned, should be cautious.
“The mainstream press is having to follow them,” said Jeffrey Seglin, a professor at Emerson College in Boston. “The fear I have is: How do you know who’s doing the Web logs?
“And what happens when this stuff gets into the mainstream, and it eventually turns out that the ‘60 Minutes’ documents were perfectly legitimate, but because there’s been so much reporting about what’s being reported, it has already taken on a life of its own?"
New century finds a new journalism
Editorial by Tom Dennis of The Grand Forks Herald
If you’re a media buff - and who isn’t, in America in 2004? - then circle Thursday, Sept. 9, on your mental calendar. Because that’s the day weblogs came into their own.Well, some might argue that it was probably three years ago to the day that weblogs came into their own.
And politics and journalism never will be the same.
What happened Thursday is that webloggers or “bloggers” latched on to a controversial “60 Minutes"/CBS News story - and then worked the thing, with a stubbornness and tenacity that would have done credit to a pack of bulldogs or a turn of snapping turtles - or, yes, an army of investigative reporters.
Bloggers drive hoax probe into Bush memos
by John Borland, CNet
"When history books are written, bloggers’ real contribution to the 2004 election may well turn out to be in providing leagues of amateur sleuths to fact-check political controversy....
“Blogs have been characterized as places where people just go to mouth off, but what this brings out is the ability of blogs to actually help report a story,” said Paul Grabowitz, professor of new media at the University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.
The incident could help legitimize the role that blogs and other nonprofessional online writers are already playing in the everyday business of news reporting."
Blogs v. 60 Minutes
by Jay Currie for Tech Central Station
"The more basic question is how could a rabble of bloggers, in one day, provide hard core proof of forgery when major news organizations took those documents at face value? Most fundamental of all, why did the New York Times, the Boston Globe and CBS allow themselves to be used for such a transparent attempt to slander President Bush? Out in the blogosphere there are a swarm of people rooting for the answers.
Bloggers Are Editors
by Virginia Postrel on her weblog
”...even a great editorial team has only a few people assigned to any given story, and those few people necessarily have limited knowledge. What CBS has learned over the past few days is that its editors aren’t good enough. Nowadays when stories go public, they get checked by after-the-fact editors with expertise in every field imaginable, and that checking gets published to the entire world via the blogosphere. Bloggers may not have editors, but they serve as editors themselves."
Bloggers as Reporters
by Paul Grabowicz on E-media Tidbits
"One lesson in all this is that the old days of news-media control of the information flow are rapidly fading. Reporters need to figure out how to work with blogs and the rest of the online world in reporting a story, rather than just dismissing them as a distraction or annoyance.
Comments like this from Dan Rather—“Until someone shows me definitive proof (the memos are not authentic), I don’t see any reason to carry on a conversation with the professional rumor mill”—just don’t cut it anymore."
by Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit.com
I think there are some important lessons for Big Media—and for everyone else—in the rise of the blogosphere. They stem from the fact that bloggers operate on the Internet, where arguments from authority are difficult since nobody knows whether you’re a dog.His commentary might also prove useful in the recent discussions about Wikipedia
In short, it’s the difference between high-trust and low-trust environments.
The world of Big Media used to be a high-trust environment. You read something in the paper, or heard something from Dan Rather, and you figured it was probably true. You didn’t ask to hear all the background, because it wouldn’t fit in a newspaper story, much less in the highly truncated TV-news format anyway, and because you assumed that they had done the necessary legwork. (Had they? I’m not sure. It’s not clear whether standards have fallen since, or whether the curtain has simply been pulled open on the Mighty Oz. But they had names, and familiar faces, so you usually believed them even when you had your doubts.)
The Internet, on the other hand, is a low-trust environment. Ironically, that probably makes it more trustworthy.
That’s because, while arguments from authority are hard on the Internet, substantiating arguments is easy, thanks to the miracle of hyperlinks. And, where things aren’t linkable, you can post actual images. You can spell out your thinking, and you can back it up with lots of facts, which people then (thanks to Google, et al.) find it easy to check. And the links mean that you can do that without cluttering up your narrative too much, usually, something that’s impossible on TV and nearly so in a newspaper."
Those Discredited Memos
by William Safire for the New York Times
"Alert bloggers who knew the difference between the product of old typewriters and new word processors immediately suspected a hoax: the “documents” presented by CBS News suggesting preferential treatment in Lt. George W. Bush’s National Guard service have all the earmarks of forgeries. . . .
It may be that CBS is the victim of a whopping journalistic hoax, besmearing a president to bring him down. What should a responsible news organization do?
To shut up sources and impugn the motives of serious critics - from opinionated bloggers to straight journalists - demeans the Murrow tradition. Nor is any angry demand that others prove them wrong acceptable, especially when no original documents are available to prove anything. . . .
Hey, Dan: On this, recognize the preponderance of doubt. Call for a panel of old CBS hands and independent editors to re-examine sources and papers. Courage."
Pick your favorite on Slashdot: Bush Service Memos Questioned.