Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The New Gatekeepers

While in San Antonio last week I sat in on a panel about the impact of blogging on traditional news operations. While all panelists agreed the "old" media need to adapt to the world as changed by bloggers, they didn't agree on much else. That made for a lively discussion, which included many in the audience. Always a good thing at these conventions, since it usually plants an idea in my brain that will fester into something more.

This time it led me back to a recent post on the Adbusters Web site regarding the myth of the liberal news media:

The myth of the mainstream media’s “liberal bias” has recently taken yet another hit after researchers at California’s Sonoma State University took a close look at the resumes of the 118 people who sit on the boards of directors of America’s ten largest media organizations. The research team is part of the Project Censored, which for nearly three decades has been exposing journalistic self-censorship — “the news that didn’t make the News.” They determined that the group of 118 board members in turn sit on the boards of 288 other major corporations. They also discovered that eight out of the ten media behemoths share common memberships in each other’s boardrooms.


Can we reasonably imagine Peter Jennings’ handlers at ABC giving him the green light to investigate why Halliburton was awarded sole-source contracts in Iraq when their own wallets are fattening because of it? How about expecting the grand poobahs of the New York Times to report on the financial ties between the Bush and Bin Laden families through their mutual membership in the Carlyle Group when they’re feasting from the same trough?

One role of the U.S. news media traditionally has been that of the gatekeeper, determining what "news" gets through the gate and into American homes. That role no longer exists due to the advent of 24-hour cable "news" channels (which are far more about opinion than news), Internet news sites, and Web logs (blogs). But many in the traditional news media haven't made the change from gatekeeper to guide.

A guide should supply depth and detail. Tell me when something isn't true and why. Explain how and why something happened, not just that it did. My choices for finding out WHAT happened have increased dramatically, and definitely include blogs and news Web sites. And I'm able to search the Web for additional details and background, although most people probably don't.

But back to the Adbusters' post. While ABC News bosses may not allow their reporters to investigate a story early on, they may certainly find it difficult to ignore a story built up by bloggers. "Citizen journalists" are able to report on matters the mainstream media may ignore. But as we've seen with Cindy Sheehan, the mainstream media often find it difficult to ignore a story receiving a great deal of coverage in the blogosphere.

Other options for "getting a story out" keep popping up. Thanks to "Current TV" (and similar sites) people who own a video camera (or have a friend who owns a video camera) can now do more than criticize the news media or offer advice. They can make a news video and upload it:
Let’s redefine the news. Shoot a story the traditional news media doesn’t know about, or won’t touch. Whether it’s an expose or an interview, your point of view matters — but so do the facts.

Gay marriage. Drug laws. Stem cells. It’s the stuff that divides us — and shows us who we are. Pick a side or bridge the gap, and help us make the abstract real and relevant.

This is your chance to dissect the news. Show us what the media is saying — and how it’s misleading, incomplete, or just plain untrue.

News Current
Here’s where we re-invent the news. Important stories? Check. Point of view? Check. Insatiable curiosity? Double-check.

Pick up on a story the mainstream media doesn’t know about — or chooses to ignore.

There are inherent dangers in relying on non-traditional "news" media, which may not do fact-checking or seek balanced reporting. But that's where the traditional news media may remain valuable, by exhibiting and explaining errors.

I'm rambling a bit, I know. As I said, the thought is still festering.