Bring on the noise

Looking through my feeds, I noticed a wonderfully droll post by Steve Yelvington on yet another tedious bloggers versus journalists article, this one by Michael Skube in the LATimes. Mr Skube’s professorial tone befits the news as lecture model that he seems to be defending like a modern day Williams Jennings Bryan. Mr Skube writes: “One gets the uneasy sense that the blogosphere is a potpourri of opinion and little more.” To which Steve responds:

One does? Perhaps one gets such an uneasy sense from not reading the blogs about which one is opining. Or from not writing what actually gets published.

It would appear that Mr Skube’s commentary is “a potpourri of opinion and little more”. You see Mr Skube, as Steve and others points out, hasn’t actually read many blogs. He hasn’t done the reporting that he’s chastising bloggers for not doing. But more than that, Skube refers to Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo as an example of a bloviating blogger. TPM and its sister site, TPM Muckraker, actually do journalism, and more than that, they have some of the more successful examples of crowd-sourced journalism to date. Josh e-mailed him and asked if he was familiar with TPM why had he included it as an example of a “dearth of original reporting in the blogosphere”.

Not long after I wrote I got a reply: “I didn’t put your name into the piece and haven’t spent any time on your site. So to that extent I’m happy to give you benefit of the doubt …”

An editor added the reference and Skube didn’t know enough to ask that it be taken out. Dan Gillmor calls on the LATimes to print at least a correction if not an outright apology.

UPDATE: (Via Jay Rosen at PressThink. Thanks for the link and quote, Jay.) The LATimes editorial page editor Jim Newton has published this note about the editing process:

Note from Editorial Page Editor Jim Newton

August 22, 2007

A number of readers have contacted The Times in recent days regarding an Aug. 19th opinion piece by Michael Skube. In some cases, readers have asked whether Times’ editors improperly inserted material in Michael Skube’s piece without his knowledge or permission. That was not the case, as this note from Skube makes clear:

Before my Aug. 19 Opinion piece on bloggers was printed, an editor asked if it would be helpful to include the names of the bloggers in my piece as active participants in political debate. I agreed.

– Michael Skube

Readers will choose to agree or disagree with Skube’s conclusions, but I hope the above resolves questions about the editing of the article.


Jim Newton

Editorial Page Editor

This reader doesn’t see a clarification, but a game of pass the buck. What’s even more shocking, is that this is the second poorly researched and reported piece by Skube on the subject, notes Paul Jones, who teaches at the University of North Carolina.

Skube unfortunately seems to fall in the trap of so many commentators who seem to think that style trumps substance and that a finely honed piece of prose somehow obviates the need for research. Dearth of reporting perhaps, Mr Skube?

I share Shane Richmond’s reaction:

What’s exasperating is that every time some journalist notices blogs (where have they been, for goodness sake?) and decides that they herald the end of civilisation as we know it, there’s some editor somewhere who will print their ravings.

These columns keep getting printed because they play to the professional biases of journalists. They play to the uninformed view that passes for conventional wisdom that there is a monolithic blogosphere, and that it is populated by wannabe columnists who try to get a foot in the door of the media by being louder and more irresponsible than the columnists they hope to replace. If you want the model those bloggers are emulating, look to comment pages and the head-to-head battles of cable news networks.

But the problem is that despite a consistent portrayal in the media of the blogosphere as political shouting shout match, this represents a fraction of the blogosphere. In the US, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that only 11% of bloggers focus on politics and government and only 5% focus on general news and current events. My hunch, and I won’t say that it’s a well researched one, is that these commentators only see political blogs because there is a professional selection bias. They comment on politics or current affairs so every blog they are familiar with, or indeed interesting in, is about politics. The blogosphere is a rich world to be explored, not just a political battlefield of the intemperate shock troops of right and left.

I’ve stated my view in the bloggers versus journalists debate frequently. Bloggers don’t want our jobs. Most bloggers write about their personal experiences. Yes, they write about their cats, their sewing, their kids’ footie games. But occasionally, they get caught up in a news event, and then they keep blogging. They commit random acts of journalism. As I just wrote this week for the Australian site,, it’s not a threat but an opportunity for those journalists willing and open-minded enough to take it.