Tuesday, May 29, 2007

An analysis of journalism

What is modern journalism and how did it get this way? ePluribus Media reviews what appears to be a fascinating new book The Rise of the Blogosphere. [Online price through Barnes & Noble is $49.95 and those of us who spend $25 a year to get the member's discount only pay $39.96. Since that is over $25.00 they pay the postage. However, I am going to wait for used copies to drop in price.]
Barlow is a sharp critic of the current trends in the media, such as the presentation of news as entertainment. At the same time, he is passionate about the importance of journalism in creating an informed public debate about the policy issues that face us. As one of the early members of the ePluribus Media collective, Barlow believes web journals and blogs have an important, if not essential, role to play in shaping public opinion and giving citizens the means to take on an active role in political debate. This -- the role of the blogs and the future of print journalism -- is one of the hottest topics in the field today.

Although Barlow is a passionate advocate of citizen journalism as it is manifest online, he does not see it as a substitute for a viable press. He also rejects the contention that web journals are an essentially new form simply because they are distributed through the Internet. In this, and other ways, the book is full of surprises; it is personal, while at the same time scholarly. It's a first-hand, inside perspective on modern journalism, but not a first-person memoir. Barlow references his own experiences as a professional journalist and teacher of journalism, but delivers a comprehensive, well researched review of the history of U.S. journalism from colonial days to the present.

The book begins with a discussion of how early U.S. printers published newspapers as a way to fully realize the capacity of their presses and how they could, by becoming postmasters, run a primitive version of modern-day news bureaus. Barlow then guides the reader through the technological developments publishing has seen in the past 250 years, from the days when Benjamin Franklin was simultaneously a printer, publisher, writer, postmaster and political leader, to the development of blogs and web journals today. This growth of technology created the possibility to reach wide audiences quickly, but it also created the circumstances for the stifling development of commercial pressures on publishers.

Besides the advent of profit-driven presentation, Barlow also addresses a more recent development in journalism - the fraud of objectivity. All too often, the truth of a matter is obscured by attempts to appear "neutral" in reporting the news of the day. Giving air time to two conflicting opinions purporting to be an unvarnished presentation of fact does not meet the ideal of objective journalism; presenting both sides of an issue is always laudable, but honest journalism demands a commitment to truth.
I find that Talking Point Memo provides better journalism than any of the major media outlets - especially the New York Times and the Washington Post. {The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe both do a better job than those two. But since they are regional newspapers they are not considered competitors to those two. It isn't an issue of journalism. It's an issue of distribution.)

Journalism is changing, and with FOX in the driver's seat at the moment, it is at a nadir. The blogosphere is part of the way out, but only a part. On-line journalism will never have the distribution to the masses that will give it the cachet to dominate journalism. But it is leading the way out of the current level of utter crap that has allowed the Conservative Republicans to dominate politics.

Having not read this book yet, I am not sure what insights it offers. But something is better than nothing. This is worth a trip to the library.

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