I hear many comments made by people in the traditional forms of news media that belittle the contribution of bloggers to the available information on the web. Sometimes the criticism has some merit to it, as in the critique that fact checking and research is not the same when done by bloggers vs. employees of major news outlets. What is missed there is that with the exception of a few bloggers who seem to have connections in their area of focus, most blogs are in the information dispersal and opinion business, not the news research business. This does mean bloggers need to be careful about the source of their information, but also means blogs are not a threat to the existence of newspapers, the Associated Press, or MSNBC. Other times the critique is not founded in logic and reason. An example of this is the often made reference to bloggers as people in pajamas and bunny slippers working out of a spare bedroom. This type of comment is not unlike some of the snide remarks made in middle school, intended to insult, demean, and just generally attack an individual or group. The comments are made with the hope that in doing so, somehow the group the attacker belongs to is made to seem superior to the target of the insult.
What never seems to be discussed is that bloggers and the traditional news media occupy very different places in the information biosphere. Bloggers will never threaten the existence of major news organizations simply because bloggers do not do the same thing as the news professionals. The changes bloggers have brought are on the news dispersal side of the equation, not the news gathering side. Often, bloggers are faster to write about an issue but rarely do so in the lengthy in-depth way that the New York Times or Washington Post can. Newspapers are in trouble not because of “competition” from bloggers, but because of a whole array of issues tied to the newspaper business being slow in adapting to the new method of news dispersal and advertising, not because of anything new in the news gathering process.
By now are wondering what the title of this post has to do with the post itself? Over a year ago I wrote an article about the prevalence of pharmaceuticals in our drinking water. I wrote it based partly on research cited in a short article by the Associated Press. In the following weeks many other bloggers and some traditional media outlets noted the story. My original post had thousands of views; the Associated Press story was probably read by millions. Recently Frontline ran a great program on PBS titled “Poisoned Waters”. You can watch it here if you missed it on PBS. Last month, in their continuing investigation, the Associated Press timed a large story about pharmaceuticals in rivers and streams to run a week or two before the Frontline story. Great publicity all around for a serious health and environment issue. The AP refers to their own year long investigation, but plays the story as an ongoing series that they need to do more research on. Maybe AP feared that if it let on that in addition to their own stories, hundreds of bloggers, along with many traditional news outlets, had written on the topic over the past year, the value of their investigation would somehow be diminished. In other words, AP and the traditional media seem to see benefit in covering the underlying story, not in asking why nothing is being done to prevent the pharmaceuticals from getting onto our water. I also heard the recent AP story referenced on a few podcasts I subscribe too. These broadcasts did not mention that the story was ongoing, written about hundreds of times over the past year. Maybe this is because they feel that old news is somehow less valuable.
I think the insecurity large news organizations feel over how news is now dispersed and the competition among these organizations for advertising revenue is getting in the way of providing the best end result of reporting. A good story informs, educates, and in some cases outrages. It this education and outrage that gets things changed for the better. If AP keeps reporting news about chemicals and drugs in our water as if each story is breaking news, then people will read the articles, think something will be done to fix the problem, and go right back to the pressures and demands of their lives. If AP would write the story with the accurate attitude that it is old news, written about many times in the past, and is news that has resulted in nothing being done to fix the problem, people might be as outraged as I am over the foot dragging. Society would be well served by this outrage, maybe even to the point of getting something done about the underlying problem. If so, maybe the article AP writes next year on drugs in our water will have some good news, rather than just rehashing the fact that our waterways are dying and our drinking water is often polluted. Now that would be news reporting as I think it should be done.