Hey You Kids! Get Off My Newsprint!

The history of the relationship between print journalism and the internet is largely a history of grumpy old men being made to look like fools. Pierre Salinger was merely an early example.

That is not because the internet makes reporting better. The internet is an excellent research and content delivery system. But it's strictly garbage in, garbage out. Nobody gets smarter or better at writing or more insightful just because they launch a blog. They're still the same dopes they were back when they were pontificating at the corner tavern to booze-addled friends. Whether they produce better and more reliable reporting than people who work at newspapers depends upon their individual abilities and initiative, and that of the reporters, not on the delivery vehicle they use.

It's attitude that makes fools of people with pretenses to journalism. Bloggers who believe a thing is right because they write it, or because they are not "MSM," are fools because of attitude. So are reporters who believe that they are right, and bloggers wrong, because the reporters have an "official" byline and an established paper-and-ink delivery system, and bloggers only have computers and whatever slovenly surroundings they live in [for the record, I am wearing pants].

Case in point: today's fool, James Risen. James Risen is a New York Times reporter (and thus at perilously high risk for self-seriousness) who wrote a recent front-page story about the discovery of vast mineral deposits in Afghanistan. Various bloggers pointed out that this was old news and that the value ascribed to the find was fanciful. Risen responded with a thoroughly embarrassing hissy fit:

“Bloggers should do their own reporting instead of sitting around in their pajamas,” Risen said.

“The thing that amazes me is that the blogosphere thinks they can deconstruct other people’s stories,” Risen told Yahoo! News during an increasingly hostile interview, which he called back to apologize for almost immediately after it ended. “Do you even know anything about me? Maybe you were still in school when I broke the NSA story, I don’t know. It was back when you were in kindergarten, I think.” (Risen and fellow Times reporter Eric Lichtblau shared a 2006 Pulitzer Prize for their reporting on the Bush administration’s secret wiretapping program; this reporter was 33 years old at the time.)

All the tropes of what journalism is, rather than what it should be, lie there for the world to see: the appeal to the authority (my information is reliable because I work for the New York Times! I have awards! I'm old!), the appeal to ridicule (bloggers live in their momma's basement!), and the quick and substance-free dismissal of dissent. But whether Risen's story is accurate or inaccurate, or new news or old news, or part of a Pentagon propaganda campaign in which Risen is a useful idiot or not, do not depend on where Risen works or how many awards he has or whether he's been doing this since his detractors were pantsless due to infancy rather than due to indolence and design. It has nothing to do with whether the bloggers are not "mainstream" or are inexperienced or have no awards.

It has to do with the facts. Whether the mineral finds were reported before is an objective fact. Whether the $1 trillion estimate of the value of the finds is bullshit or not is a combination of fact and opinion that can be probed by careful examination and discussions with subject matter experts. if the bloggers can better cite facts, with proof, then their work is better, whatever their status as "official" journalists. If Risen can better support his reporting with facts, and proof, then his work is better, whether or not he's part of a biased and culturally archaic institution.

Risen's chief mistake is saying what I suspect many journalists are thinking.

Last 5 posts by Ken White