Blogging and the future of news

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Like Drudge, Talking Points Memo (TPM) is partisan. It also has some really great stories and is often more fun to read than the New York Times. It is a respected website in establishment journalism and recently won a prestigious award for truthful and muckraking reporting.

More and more, stories are broken by bloggers. Drudge is a major player. TPM has been critical for several big stories, including the controversial firing of several U.S. attorneys and subsequent resignation of Attorney General Gonzales. Why are blogs often on the frontier of these big stories and is this good or bad? And what does it mean for the future of written news?

Independent news blogs have pros and cons. On the one hand, their short history and short expected life cycle mean they have less to lose. Sensationalistic stories and half-truths carry a lower punishment for bloggers. Nevertheless, risk aversion may be an impediment to hard-hitting news from traditional outlets, whose first priority is to protect their reputation for impartiality. What if you report on something controversial and turn out to be wrong? Perhaps more importantly, how can you report on corruption, scandal, and intimidation by the government when you depend on access to the government for material and stories? The close relationship between government and traditional media results in a bias toward stories favorable to government. Media mis-information during the lead up to the Iraq war is a good example of the consequent risks.

Therefore, the blogs have an important role. Bloggers typically do not have the type of access to institutional sources, and consequently have less stake in not stepping on big toes. The blogs take risks that allow them to break some big stories.

What about the papers? Will online kill the papers? If any reporters can start a blog with no brick and mortar costs and no printing presses, how do the papers stay alive? Everyone twenty-something I know gets news online. Nevertheless, in my opinion, there will always be a role for the New York times as a gatekeeper for establishment news. Even if their business model goes Web, they will be strong (although regional papers may go the way of Encyclopedia Britannica in Wikipedia’s wake).

So hurray for news blogs. Read TPM and Drudge.

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