Blogging: Compared To What?

As Patterico celebrates his tenth blogging anniversary, and Scott Greenfield celebrates his sixth, I am moved to think again about how bloggers are regarded by what is called the "mainstream media."

Despite how mainstream bloggers have become, and despite the fact that almost all "mainstream media" outlets have their own bloggers, the prevailing attitude seems unchanged in more than a decade: bloggers, we're told, are unreliable, biased, wild-eyed pajama-clad basement-dwellers.

Apart from the pajamas and basement part, I think this is irrefutably true. Bloggers are biased and unreliable.

Here's the key question: compared to what?

We've been told to think that people who went to journalism school, who write or talk for established media outlets, who are clad in the garb of media-officialdom, represent some sort of neutral-and-reliable baseline, and that bloggers are somewhere below that. But it's fallible humans all the way down, my friends. The notion that someone is trustworthy or honest because they landed a job with an old-school media outlet is, to be blunt, laughable.

Are bloggers wild-eyed? Sure. Some of us are nuts. But check out the sort of people that "mainstream media" hires. This week's example — local news writer Kathleen O'Brein Wilhelm, who as far as I can tell thinks deer can't read because Obama kills babies, and offers deathless lines like this: "Words are fun and worth clearly stating, in English if in America, and with an opinion that is yours because it’s good to have an opinion." Too obscure a media outlet, an exception that proves the rule? Well, you could go with the crazy Suzi Parker of the Washington Post, whose crazitude led her breathlessly to report satire about Sarah Palin as fact.

Are bloggers biased, uninterested in facts that don't support their biases, eager to push stories that promote their narratives, throwing out red meat like chum to sharts? Of course. But again, compared to what? Consider this Platonic ideal of mastubatory senile-dementia-agitating drivel from Fox News pearl-clutching about a university recognizing pagan and Wiccan holidays. Quoth Tucker Carlson on a Fox program "Every Wiccan I've known is either a compulsive Dungeons & Dragons player or is a middle-aged twice divorced older woman living in a rural area who works as a midwife." Gosh, Tucker. That's pretty strong language from someone who puts on a bow tie to seem tougher.

"Mainstream" journalists, like bloggers, can be statistapologists and amusingly arrogant louts and gullible twerps and con-men on the make and straight-up bigots.

This is not to say you should trust bloggers. You should exercise skepticism about what you read on blogs. You should use your independent judgment about their work product.

But why, exactly, shouldn't we do the same with "mainstream" journalism outlets? By what stretch of the imagination are they reliable just because they have the big name?

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. says

    > "Words are fun and worth clearly stating, in English if in America"

    I'm left wondering what language that is, and why it's got so many homonyms with my mother tongue.

  2. Damon says

    Well said Ken.

    "mainstream" journalism: we majored in this stuff in school and are "professionals". LOL

    Most of the professional journalists know little about the subjects they write about, expecially in the highly technical areas. Bloggers, at leaset some, actually have experience in those areas…

  3. says

    I recall one old biddy… erm… esteemed senior member of the White House Press Corps(e)… more than a decade back being asked about Matt Drudge. She said he couldn't be taken seriously because he didn't have an editor. He just published whatever the hell he wanted!

    Not how things are done!

    I found this doubly amusing as she was quite sure the television press was part of her club, though 40 years back the newspapers chiefs were deriding the nascent television news in much the same way that she was going after this new internet thing. It was much more about some new player not following the damn rules.

  4. manybellsdown says

    "compulsive Dungeons & Dragons player" – Come on, do you know how hard it is to get 6 adults to show up for that shit even once a week? All my campaigns go great for 3 or 4 sessions and then people start having to work late, or Timmy has a sousaphone recital, or the dog needs a manicure…

  5. says

    Ken: "mainstream media."

    From personal experience, I prefer the term lamestream muddia.

    I have never read a "news report" of an incident of which I had personal knowledge in which the "reporter/journalist" (I like David Codrea's term urinalist) didn't screw up basic facts. Not alleged versions or disputed facts, but established facts… like the color of a vehicle. In a color photograph. I'm something of a gunnie, so I notice the "news reports" that refer to WASR-10s as "AK-47 assault rifles" (but conveniently fail to mention any weapons charges related to unlicensed possession of a mchine gun), or semi-auto AR-15s identified as full auto AK-47s. I've seen MAC-10/11 semi-auto variants and Tech-9 variants called "assault rifles" so many times that I can only conclude it's deliberate. I've been interviewed several times, on a variety of subjects. For the SCA, I'd give the reporter hard copy handouts so they'd have written facts to refer to when drafting the article. They'd get it wrong anyway. I've been interviewed by email; the report got my quotes wrong. I gave an interview a few years ago by phone. I read from a written statement, and offered to send the statement to the reporter for reference. He still got it wrong (and he was writing a complimentary piece).

    I called out a reporter at the Nashua Telegraph for multiple blatant falsehoods in a single article. His defense was that's what the police report said, and it isn't his place to question the authorities.

    But mere "bloggers" like Codrea? Why, they do such naive things as wait for multiple source confirmation, and make source documents available publicly instead of generously "interpreting" everything for the uneducated masses.

    No, bloggers aren't reporters.

    Thank Bog.

  6. Jo says

    In all fairness, Ken, Kathleen O'Brien Wilhelm is not a real person, She's a bot written as a class project by some C students in an AI class at Pepperdine. They're training the bot by incorporating feedback from blogs such as yours. When it manages to write as cogently as Mark Judge they're going to run it for president.

  7. Austin says

    Ken, you don't see a similitude between journalism and lawyers as professions where formal training may impart value that is non-obvious to those without it?
    It's clear that "smart person + != lawyer"; it's not clear to me that "smart person + keyboard != journalist" isn't equally applicable. Consider your frustration at some clients that may understand a particular idea (like "I can SHUT UP and not talk to the police") but excercise their skepticism because it seems fine to them at the time; I imagine part of that frustration is the old "they don't know what they don't know" saw. I can imagine a journalist similarly feeling frustrated with bloggers who may also be confident about their similarly erroneous understanding of the field.
    Clearly, formal training plus experience isn't a sufficient basis to blindly trust a source for either law or journalism. You've written before about importance of referrals for just this reason. But I'm inclined to treat mainstream media as a sort of referral; it doesn't guarantee competence, but it may dramatically increase the odds of it.
    LawSchool + Experience -> TrustedReferral -> CompetentCounsel ; why not JournalismSchool + Experience -> TrustedMediaSource -> CompetentReporting ?
    (This is an general model, I'm omitting factors like comparative academic difficulty between a journalism degree, the more stringent ethics requirements imposed by the bar, etc for the sake of what concision I can manage.)

  8. Matthew says

    "throwing out red meat like chum to sharts."

    That typo made me laugh so hard, I sharted a little. :)

  9. Library Nachos says

    Not only is Damon 100% correct, it can also be said that journalists know very little about writing, as well. I'll take bloggers over "journalists".

    Attributed to Thomas Jefferson:
    "The most truthful part of a newspaper is the advertisements."

    Been around a long time…

  10. naught_for_naught says

    >M. Scraping is a technology that uses a bot to read and capture the content from any number of websites. The sontent may then be republished or saved for some other use.

    It's commonly used anytime you want to capture a routine information set. Say you wanted an hourly update on all the companies in the NASDAQ top 100 index. You could create a bot to request, read and interpret those pages. The data can then ne used anyway you chose. You could store it in some statistical analysis package, or republish it.

    It's really the republishing that's pretty shitty. People use scraping to gather and republish others' content. The technology is bad, but it does make it easy for people to behave poorly.

    I wrote my first scraper more than 12 years ago for a consumer service agency. The California State Contractor Licensing Board was stuck in the dark ages with information sharing, and we wanted to provide reasonably accurate about the contractors in Southern California. So my scraper, would query their online database, read the report and update our database record for the company. I ran it monthly. In this case it helped to protect consumers who would routinely ask my agency before hiring.

  11. Geek Chick says

    Hey! While I am middle-aged, live in a rural area and play D&D, I have never been divorced and I'm an electrical engineer which is probably the polar opposite of a midwife. Have to agree with Bear, every news report for which I have first hand knowledge has had at least one major factual error if not more. My personal fave is when the local newspaper spouse swapped my husband for my friends husband. All four of us were quite surprised when we read the article.

  12. Tarrou says

    At least with bloggers you know going in what their biases are. And you know from the comments what sort of swill their reader base is. The mainstream media? Take your best guess. Of course, statistics are useful, but the veneer of "objectivity" is really nothing more than a layer of WD-40 sprayed on the camera to fake out the gullible and the already biased.

  13. Geek Chick says

    I think Journalism school teaches the very esoteric skill of assessing a crowd of articulate reasonable witnesses and finding the one mouth breathing village idiot who didn't actually see anything to interview.

  14. BNT says

    Austin — you're absolutely right that we don't always know what we don't know. That is exactly why I have no reason to believe being part of mainstream media increases the odds of competence.

    You see, much of the stories I read seem reasonable and well-reported. But the vast majority of mainstream media reports about my area of expertise (medicine & drugs) leave me either furious about how they spin it or exasperated at how they are (mis)reporting it.

    The stories in other areas often seem superficially reasonable… but why should I believe MSM reporting is any more reliable in other fields than it is in mine? I suspect that most of the stories I read are making some expert, somewhere, tear their hair out or shake their head.

    In short: I have no evidence that MSM can report things correctly other than "In areas I know nothing about, I can't identify why they're wrong."

  15. James Pollock says

    There are two differences between "mainstream journalism" and "blogging":
    First, the cost of maintaining an infrastructure limits mainstream journalism. They have to keep their numbers up because their income depends on it. Blogging is usually a not-for-profit exercise, allowing the proprietors to do as they see fit rather than attempting to serve a mass audience. This difference has pluses and minuses both ways.
    The big difference, though, is in the quality of the editing. Not to say that all the editors in one are better or worse than all the editors in the other, but there IS a difference on average.

  16. says

    @James Pollock: "The big difference, though, is in the quality of the editing."

    Allow me to introduce you to NH's Nashua Typograph (I had to look up that URL, because the quality of their writing/editing/proofreading was so bad I dropped my subscription and stopped reading regularly it online years ago). And yes, the Typograph is the paper I referred to earlier, whose writer claimed it isn't his job to question what he's told, even when it's obviously wrong.

    I have a tiny, niggling suspicion that other readers here can provide one or two more examples.

    I make (more than) my fair share of typos (and other errors). But I'm not charging for my oh-so-professional services.

  17. says

    I am also with Bear on this one. In every case where I have had personal knowledge of a news story the media version was remarkably skewed or just flat wrong. Is it possible that the media is always wrong about everything?

    On an aside, misuse of the phrase "exception that proves the rule" is a pet peeve. It refers to using an exception to a rule to prove the existence of a general rule. For example, a sign in a Superior Court that says "no smoking when the judge is on the bench" (there is actually such a sign in a LA courtroom) "proves" the rule that it is okay to smoke when the judge is not on the bench.

  18. Chris R. says

    I think reputation has something to do with it all, not generalized I googled you reputation, but how I personally feel about an outlet. There are certain publications that have developed a better reputation with me personally through the truthfulness of their articles and their ability to admit when they are wrong. Some publications go out of their way to redact inaccurate information and apologize to their readership, some bury it but still do it, and some couldn't care less.

    I approach news stories without assuming everything I read is fact, if the story interests me I might read different versions from multiple sources to form a better information. Often times if the news is based on science etc, I read the actually material they are referencing afterwards to get the reports findings, not the journalist's. If the story doesn't perk an interest? I often times try to form my own opinion.

    The news is supposed to make you better informed, I think it does a relatively okay job with letting you know what the issues we are facing are, but maybe not the real meat of the issues sometimes.

  19. Blah says

    "On an aside, misuse of the phrase "exception that proves the rule" is a pet peeve."

    It's also a pet peeve of mine, so allow me to correct you here: "prove" in this case is used in one of its older forms meaning "to test". It means an exception that tests the integrity and inflexibility of the rule in question.

  20. princessartemis says

    Chiming in with those who have personal knowledge of a news report and seeing it reported incorrectly. In the case I know of first hand, it was reported incorrectly in order to ramp up the drama.

  21. says

    Blah – for what is is worth, this is from the relevant Wikipedia page:

    "The phrase is derived from the medieval Latin legal principle exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis ("the exception confirms the rule in cases not excepted"), a concept first proposed by Cicero in his defence of Lucius Cornelius Balbus.[1] This means a stated exception implies the existence of a rule to which it is the exception. The second part of Cicero's phrase, "in casibus non exceptis" or "in cases not excepted," is almost always missing from modern uses of the statement that "the exception proves the rule," which may contribute to frequent confusion and misuse of the phrase."

  22. James Pollock says

    "'The big difference, though, is in the quality of the editing.'
    Allow me to introduce you to NH's Nashua Typograph"

    YMMV. Some print outlets are run like blogs, and vice versa. Did you miss the disclaimer that immediately follows the text you quoted?

  23. David but not that David says

    I think James Pollock hit the nail on the head: mainstream media is of course biased because it's humans all the way down, but their biases are often in a different direction: i.e. Publish First-ism, Sensationalism, Easy To Cover-ism, I Just Want To Go Home-ism, Nobody Will Notice The Retraction-ism, and obviously with political and social biases also thrown in there too, but perhaps on a lower priority rung.

  24. James Pollock says

    Blah, Roscoe, you're talking about two different things.

    Explicitly stating an exception proves that an unstated contrary rule EXISTS. To use the opposite example, a sign in the parking lot that says "smoking permitted here" implies that it is not permitted elsewhere.

    Finding that an exemption exists "proves" the rule in the sense that a general rule that has exceptions isn't really a general rule. That is, in the sense that pointing out an exception really "tests" or "challenges" the rule.

    Congratulations, you're both right!

  25. James Pollock says

    Well, Roscoe, you're right, of course, but I can't recommend that as a path to riches, glory, and popularity.

  26. says

    @ James Pollock,

    Yep, I saw the qualifying statement. I might even agree. The blogs I read primarily for news, as opposed to amusement — although there is some overlap — tend to be better researched and sourced, edited, and proofread than the alleged mainstream media outlets (see above for correct terminology).

    I don't even blog these days, but occasionally something will catch my attention enough that I'll post something on my web site. Case in point: the recent "imaginary grenade" case in Colorado. I generated a — hopefully — mildly amusing cartoon of the imaginary friend carnage. A joke. But even for something as silly and minor as that picture, I checked multiple "news" stories, included links to the stories, researched the school, and even the school district — policy letters, mission statements, contacts. Except for the email addresses (which I kindly left off, even though I found them publicly posted), I linked to the source data. And I followed up on the story, with more links. None of that took much time; I spent far more on the stupid cartoon itself. And I don't get paid to find and present facts (darn it).

    My Telegraph/Typograph example is hardly an isolated case. I similarly gave up on NH's largest paper, the Union Leader, for about the same reasons. I only read the two as long as I did because one is heavily slanted "conservative" while the other is laughably "liberal"; I read both in hopes of finding the inconvenient facts one or the other wouldn't report for a given story. But it became too much work sorting out the BS from the few facts, or getting the papers to actually look into something instead of regurgitating paraphrased police reports.

    Before I moved up here, I spent some time in Memphis, where my mother still had a print subscription to the Commercial Appeal, which I recalled from my youth as being… not too bad. But it had become a joke, a waste of dead trees. In St. Louis, the Post-Dispatch….

    Pardon me. I had to puke. The P-D was one of the most biased papers I ever read (including the Stars & Stripes). They, sort of, ran one of my letters to the editor. It was re-written by the editorial staff so completely (typos and bad grammar added, facts deleted, bogus facts inserted) that I didn't realize it was supposedly mine until I got down to the signature.

    TV news? Dear Bog, I gave up on that for factual reporting when I was still in my naive teens. Amusement though: I still recall the St. Louis TV report that the Mississippi had submerged the base of the Gateway Arch. You might also recall exploding Pintos and nerve gas in Vietnam.

    Yep, Blogs vs. Lamestream Muddia: One does tend to be better. If I see one more freaking "news" report of some kid launching a toy into "outer space" on a helium balloon (or into bloody orbit, as I once read)… -shriek-

  27. ShelbyC says

    Obamacare Overturned! What? Hold on a second here folks, I'm being told that SCOTUSBLOG is reporting that Obamacare is being upheld as tax. Hold on a second folks while we confirm this…

  28. Chris R. says

    @Bear, TV news is supposed to drive emotional responses, that is its actual goal.

    Print is supposed to be more informative. Objectivity is actually a rather new development in news media (50s or so) and at one point papers tried to be so objective that they wouldn't even comment on politician's quotes (McCarthy) in order to appear completely objectivity. However nowadays we also have people objecting to news on political grounds etc. and if you don't piss off one group, you're bound to piss off another.

    I for one prefer news organizations to not try to be completely objective as then they become mouth pieces for whoever is talking, without any analysis. However I don't think any news organization does a great job all of the time and I tend to read news sources that both seem to share and rail against my political views as to get a feel for the total coverage. Also sites like have good resources to look at how a single issue is being reported across the world under their indexes.

  29. says

    @ShelbyC. [grin]

    Shooting in Newtown!

    T/w/o/ b/r/o/t/h/e/r/s/ T/w/o/ s/h/o/o/t/e/r/s/ One shooter suspected of killing his f/a/t/h/e/r/ a/n/d/ mother a/t/ t/h/e/ s/c/h/o/o/l/ at home, where was a t/e/a/c/h/e/r/ s/u/b/s/t/i/t/u/t/e/ t/e/a/c/h/e/r/ not on the staff, along with s/e/v/e/r/a/l/ 1/6/ 1/8/ 2/0/ 2/3/ 2/6/ 2/7/ 26 other people.. and the shooter shot himself. T/h/e/y/ he used o/n/e/ t/w/o/ t/h/r/e/e/ four hanguns and a s/h/o/t/g/u/n/ and B/u/s/h/m/a/s/t/e/r/ The B/u/s/h/m/a/s/t/e/r/ shotgun was found in the trunk and he u/s/e/d/ /t/h/e/ B/u/s/h/m/a/s/t/e/r/ the Bushmaster was f/o/u/n/d/ in/ t/h/e/ v/e/h/i/c/l/e/ b/u/t/ n/o/t/ i/n/ t/h/e/ t/r/u/n/k/ used the Bushmaster. The shooter is n/a/m/e/d/ never mind; that was his brother in another state. The shooter is named Adam Lanza.

    With lamestream muddia "reporting" like that, it's no wonder this set off so many of the conspiracy theorists who for some weird reason do trust the muddia. Go figure.

  30. says

    @Chris R.: "Print is supposed to be more informative."

    I can't tell from your avatar: Did you say that with a straight face? Make that, "Readers expect print to be more informative" and you're a little closer. What print — and electronic muddia — are for is to boost ratings to make more money.

    "I for one prefer news organizations to not try to be completely objective as then they become mouth pieces for whoever is talking, without any analysis."

    I see your point, and I agree. Somewhat. I do like to see other people's analyses; They're a check on my own. But I don't want that analysis in what is billed as "news reporting". I want them to present facts (and do fact-checking to make sure they get it as right as possible) so I can do my own analysis. I don't want them to use a "news report" to tell me what I should think and feel. That's what the commentary/editorial sections are for.

    The fact-checking part: When a muddia source paraphrases a police press release that alleges the illegal possession of machine guns, they should notice if the press release neglects to mention any charges related to those illegal machine guns. And ask questions, so they can report facts, so I can make a valid analysis.

    And when some college-educated, journalism major reporter runs with a press release that claims someone achieved Low Earth Orbit with a helium balloon… said "college-educated" reporter's BS alarm should be going off, prompting some serious questions. Likewise when researchers claim to have just invented charcoal and solder trace pens (two more real examples I've encountered). Or the guy who got a government grant to create a smart phone app to do voicemail. (I corresponded with that professor; he apparently really didn't know that cell phones already do voicemail. But then, the "news" service that reported his invention apparently didn't either.)

    I think it's about time for me to move on, before Ken starts charging me for the bandwidth.

  31. JLA Girl says

    Perhaps a bit off topic, but for an interesting look at bloggers AS the media, I'd recommend giving Mira Grant's Newsflesh trilogy a read (plus: zombies!). It paints an interesting picture of the fall of mainstream media.

  32. C. S. P. Schofield says

    The notion that it is possible for any reportage to be unbiased is one of the great frauds of human history. And it is no less a fraud simply because the people who perpetrate it sincerely believe that THEY are not biased.

    The pervasive Liberal/Progressive bias of the mainstream media isn't even the worst effect. The worst is the effect that attempting to appear unbiased has had on the quality of writing. The great heyday of newspaper writing took place when most newspapers made no secret of their agenda, and wrote from that point of view with great passion. Nowadays the New York Times – which is held to be some kind of peak in Modern Journalism – serves up prose that reads the way boiled cardboard tastes.

    The Blogs serve up a tasty passion, with admittedly questionable accuracy, and the Established Press HATES THAT.

  33. Texan99 says

    "She said he couldn't be taken seriously because he didn't have an editor." That would be funny even if MSM stories still looked as though they had received the services of an editor.

    As for journalistic standards, well, if professional journalists had them and bloggers did not, the MSM would be different experience for us all. I don't waste a lot of time hoping to find professionalism in an AP wire.

  34. Alex says

    Ken, you have ALMOST made the connection. If we get in the habit of critical thinking and exercising skepticism while reading blogs, we might start to do that to mainstream outlets. THAT is what really knots their knickers!

  35. Sass says

    Mainstream media is a misnomer now. Let's use something more accurate, such as "corporate media" or "for-profit media."