Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Revenge of the blog

Nowadays, it seems everyone has a blog (this guy included). They're the hot new medium and some bloggers are even predicting they will eventually replace grizzled journalists in reporting the news. But what exactly will they do when they don't have newspapers from which to steal content?

Look at most blogs and they're usually just copies of legitimate newspaper Web sites. Many include a bunch of links with a brief description of the news of the day. So to borrow a line from the old Observer-Reporter ... What's up with that? While some bloggers have very interesting content, it seems that the internet has spawned millions of blogs where everyone has an opinion, but rarely does anyone have something important to say (once again, this guy included).

So my fellow bloggers and comment posters: Let's make a pact to stop stealing newspaper content and start coming up with some fresh ideas. If you offer your own opinion on the news or sports, then more power to you. But for the rest of us, let's re-tool the blogosphere.


  1. Case in point (sorry for the big link)

  2. In a recent blog of an O-R staffer, somebody made a comment something like, "Opinions, I like lots of them." To which somebody else responded that they like facts.

    Blogging has revealed a growing trend in our society. As pointed out, blogs provide an opportunity for anybody to voice themselves, whether their voice contains reason, logic, or just opinion that is used to promote an agenda. Far too often, the latter is the case -- just opinions. And, the responded referenced above just wanted opinions, lots of them.

    The trend in our society is to do away with absolute truth. The trend is to support opinions, given the same validity to any voice. In other words, everybody's opinion has the same merit and validity. Everybody's version of what they perceive as truth has been muddled with the voice, giving opinion the same platform as truth.

    Our lack of a standard basis for absolute truth gives some folks the understanding that everybody has their own truth. They have obscured truth with opinion, and are calling the latter truth.

    One of Lyn Cullen's favorite lines (when we was a regular in the Pittsburgh talk show scene -- soon to return in a streaming Internet format): Why can't we just get along? This is a good question. But, the answer is really very simple. Everybody has a different view of truth, and when differing views of truth collide, conflict is the outcome.

    Bloggers have emerged as the new wave of giving voice to their version of truth. Everybody who chooses to write (myself included) believe their position holds merit, and therefore believes their voice is worthy of hearing.

    What is lost in all this is the lack of listening. Listening has quickly become a lost art, in the morass of voices to be heard in the blogs. The array of writers that went before us, hundreds of years before us, that wrote books of classic nature (withstanding the test of time) are going unnoticed. The attention is turned to blogs, listening to the voices of those usually without merit, without any reasoned or logical arguments, or any worthwhile wisdom. Meanwhile the voices of those with something worthwhile to say are going unread and unheard.

    In the attempt to level the field, so to speak, of all voices, we would do better to let those with something to say that is of merit, stand high and tall. Meanwhile, those with nothing to say, would be better off reading and listening.

    Maybe sounds harsh, but ... as I see it.

    Spoken as just one more voice in the morass of others, ...

  3. I wouldn't say it's THAT bad :-) Especially because I am the one who begged for more opinions...

    The context was regarding content in newspapers... I would contend that newspapers are currently FULL of facts... dates, figures, times, records of events... But I don't need a newspaper to get facts and figures. I don't have to wait until a kid drops a bundle of wood fiber on my porch to know what percentage of people said "x" in a poll... or what time the school board meeting is... All of that information is instantly available 24/7.

    What I WOULD like to see more of is not so much generic "opinion"... but rather "perspective"--- from good writers. Writers who can take a big swath of data and make a determination... provide their perspective on what it means to them... and what they think it means to us.

    That's where TV news has gone... most of the programming on "news" channels is Op-Ed... Sure, people are too dumb to know that it isn't "news" per se... but they eat it up, nonetheless.

    Bottom line... newspapers can reproduce facts... that's fine... but don't be surprised if that's not what brings me in the door... Assuming you can bring me in the door at all...

  4. I think the problem, which Roger pointed out, is that opinions on blogs are sometimes being skewed to look like facts. There is a reason reporters have access to go where others can't. We collect the facts and present them to our readers in an objective manner (well, as objectively as humanly possible). My problem with some of the blogs is that they don't do any actual reporting or news presentation. And more to the point, it's unlikely they will be able to gather much unbiased news when these old dinosaurs called newspapers are gone.

    As for arguments, I definitely agree too many people are shouting and not enough are listening. I have strong political beliefs. But I find my most enlightening conversations are with a buddy from WVU who holds views completely opposite to mine. Because he is analytical and bases his opinions on facts, I find myself learning a lot.

    What is really upsetting me right now, though, is the claims that Obama tanked the economy. How any rational person can put blame on Obama, rather than George W. Bush, is mind-boggling. If the economy is still in trouble two years from now, then that's fine. And if you want to have a rousing debate over whether the stiumulus package will work, then that would make for a productive conversation.

  5. Isn't that what makes it fun for analytical and rational people, Mike??? When you read something that is bullshit and then get to call them on it? :-)

    On matters that are relatively "small"-- I agree that reporters have the ability to dig up "facts" better than the average citizen... but in terms of broad topics that have similarly broad appeal, it isn't really necessary... Let's use the economy as an example, since you brought it up... There are VOLUMES of information... real data and facts and figures and stats and numbers... about the economy that are perfectly accessible to anyone with a computer-- straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak.

    What is interesting... and useful, in a twisted sort of way, is seeing how people USE that information to push an opinion. It's useful, not in economic terms, but in social and political terms. To watch a conservative pundit spin economic data to put blame on Obama vs. a liberal pundit using the same data to put blame on Bush... it's that pseudo-information that is more actionable in terms of generating political speech and debate than simply knowing what inventory numbers are or the 200 day moving average of this or that index...

    BUT--- and this is a big but... When it comes to seeing those opinions in print, I want to see the best writing possible... I don't want to see some schlep-rock with a 10th grade education trying to do hillbilly math on EBITDA figures of GM pre-bankruptcy... I want to see an economist taking the raw data and spinning a yarn.

    But it's not like this is zero-sum... given enough cash, BOTH can be available... the first 3 pages of the business section are strictly the facts... the last 3 pages are interpretation of those facts. And to provide that cash... well, that's a sales problem, not a content problem. Newspaper and Online versions of newspapers need to be sold differently to advertisers... but that's another thing altogether... Jonesie, why don't you write up a blog post about the stimulus? It's a big old pile of money that isn't getting NEARLY the press, debate, and heated argument that it deserves...

  6. Who exactly is the horse, E? I think that's my biggest problem with your argument. So I disagree that there are volumes of unbiased information the average citizen can find. Case in point, the average citizen can watch the daily White House press briefing on C-SPAN and get all the unfiltered "government news" of the day. But there are reporters at that press briefing to push back on the BS spewing from Robert Gibbs' lips. Then they break it down into something the average citizen can understand. Some call that the filter of the media... I call it an important barrier between a misleading government and the people.

    Same with economic issues... Unemployment increased from 9.4 percent in May to 9.5 percent in June (yes, I do have a lot of time on my hands and can look up the facts). But what do those numbers mean? Is it a good thing unemployment basically remained the same, or does it mean we're going to be stalled around double-digit unemployment? Does it show the stimulus is working or just wasting money? We need experts to explain that, and most citizens don't have Paul Krugman on speed dial.

    When I covered the power line issue over the past couple of years, I had both the power company and residents lobbying me to tell their side of the story. As a reporter, it was my job to break down both sides and present an objective report, which often angered one side or the other. If both sides are angry at you, that means you probably did something right.

    So you can find the facts out there, but it is my opinion you need an unbiased observer to interpret and explain what those facts mean.

  7. I think our ideas of "opinion" are slightly different... When Paul Krugman writes a column about what 9.5% unemployment "means"... I consider that opinion... from someone who is generally qualified to give an opinion on unemployment. The 9.5% figure is the fact... the fact that is universally accessible. But the pontification about what a .1% uptick "means" is the interpretation that people crave...

    I'm also not entirely sure how my definition of a "fact" would hold up against the other commenter who wanted "more facts."--- I would define a "fact" as a quantifiable value...

    9.5% unemployment: Fact
    North Korea test fires missiles into sea of Japan: Fact
    Neda shot in the chest and video-taped dying in the street in Tehran: Fact

    If what people are searching for are "facts"-- then you don't need an elaborate network of people to distribute those facts. Gibbs talks to a roomful of press corps and says that N. Korea did this, that, and the other thing... they ask their questions, he answers... press conference is over. The "facts" now exist as recorded by those in the room. Once published, they are universally accessible... I don't "need" the OR to obtain that information... However, I might WANT Mike Jones to tell me what it MEANS that N.Korea shot a couple of rockets into the ocean... and then I might WANT Dale Lolly to tell me why Mike Jones doesn't know what the hell he's talking about and what it REALLY means is -insert Dale's spin-.

    I think that media has evolved to the point where a simple record of events is insufficient... it's like the old ticker tape of stock transactions... static finance info just doesn't cut it... I need to be able to click the closing price to obtain more information... Not only do I need to be able to drill down that data, but then I want different perspectives on what it means.

    And when you start to apply meaning to cold, hard facts... you have left the fact room and entered the opinion room.

  8. A few quick things before I abandon this thread and get back to my job search. You're probably right on Krugman. But I would prefer an economist (maybe not him) to tell me what those numbers could mean.

    And when reporters give "meaning" we are not opining. We are presenting the possibilities, and sometimes there are multiple possibilities. Perfect example is when the power company reached an agreement with Greene County not to bring the line through that area. Although no press release or official said so, that decision completely changed the scope of the project, but it did not take a high-voltage power line off the table elsewhere.

    Plus, only stupid reporters like us will read a 50-page press release on a mundane topic like high-voltage power lines and pack it into 15 tight inches!

  9. OK :-)

    Hey, what are you looking to "do"--- what kind of jobs are you pursuing?

  10. Good heavens. Boy is it nice to enjoy reading an Internet conversation among intelligent people, without borderline retarded people mucking it up. Thanks, fellas. Now, back to my blog. ;-)