Ferrari’s Potshot at Bloggers Misses the Point
This week’s Trumansburg Free Press features an editorial by Steve Ferrari in which he dips his toe into our congressional race here in the 24th district, and quickly pulls it back out without bothering to discuss the race seriously. Ferrari couldn’t seem to find the space to even mention who the Democratic and Republican candidates are, but made space to toss a little bomb in this direction, saying,
“…it just seems like common sense that people would not write about things they don’t understand. We should be leaving that to the bloggers.”
You’ll see this kind of statement all the time from journalists, who seem to get a nasty rash just from hearing the word blogger. The national journalistic establishment has long derided the blogosphere as made up of hopeless fools and outsiders who could never get a story straight.
This same establishment was left blubbering and blabbering, of course, when Ned Lamont beat Joseph Lieberman – a result they had predicted could never come about, but countless bloggers had gotten right. The journalists reporting on the race were so cozy with Democratic Party insiders in Connecticut and Washington D.C. that they got lazy and reported the story that the Democratic leadership wanted them to report: That Lamont was just a kooky outsider who could never win the nomination by defying the power brokers (who just so happened to be the journalists’ sources).
Journalists hate to admit it, but sometimes bloggers get it right when the newspapers and other traditional news media get it tragically wrong. The story of the mythical Iraqi weapons of mass destruction is another example of this. When you see journalists saying that “no one could have imagined that the war in Iraq could go this way”, what they’re really saying is that they were incapable of such imagination, so busy repeating the official word from the White House that they never stopped to ask for facts to support President Bush’s wild assertions. It was the bloggers who sounded the alarm, and noted that real evidence to justify a war was lacking.
Mr. Ferrari shouldn’t be so quick to assign unreliable writing to bloggers as opposed to newspapers. The Trumansburg Free Press has recently had its own problems being criticized for reporting with a lack of accuracy and objectivity, as Mr. Ferrari well knows.
The thing that bothers me the most about Ferrari’s comment is that he’s exhibiting a snobbish attitude about communication that is not becoming for the editor of a small town newspaper. When we leave discussion on local issues to experts and authorities, sometimes there are some very basic questions that go unasked and important matters that are left unaddressed. We should all be writing, and all be talking, as a community, about the issues that affect us.
The strength of bloggers is that they aren’t as afraid to be wrong as journalists are. As for myself, I acknowledge that, on the blogs that I write, I turn out to be wrong sometimes. I regard being wrong, and being corrected by people who care enough to show me that I’m wrong, as part of the process of writing a blog. The discussion that results from my mistakes helps other people to feel more comfortable joining the debate, and results in some productive talk about what the truth is.
Sometimes, stories that I write about turn out to be inaccurate. A lot of the time, the issues that I write about turn out to be unimportant and uninteresting to most people. However, every now and then, on one of my blogs, I’ll hit on something that turns out to be important, but isn’t being written about elsewhere. Sometimes, it’s a story that journalists already have information on, but have decided they won’t write about. If there were no bloggers, these stories might never come to public attention.
Journalists often feel threatened by bloggers, because they believe that bloggers are trying to seize some of journalists’ turf. That reflects a simplistic understanding of what blogs are.
Blogs are not like newspapers, and they shouldn’t try to be. Blogs serve another purpose, one that newspapers cannot serve very well. Blogs are a forum for public communication, and for quick distribution of information. The information that’s found on blogs is often not as reliable as what is typically found in a newspaper, but on the whole, blogs provide much more complete and timely information.
Intelligent people who read blogs realize that they ought not to accept the information they find there without a grain of salt. They know that there will be mistakes, but they also know that by reading blogs, they will find information that they could never get in a newspaper. These readers also know that they can check the validity of the information themselves. However, if the blogs weren’t out there in the first place, readers would often never have the opportunity to check that information – because it wouldn’t ever reach them. If bloggers weren’t out there writing, the body of information available to the public would be much thinner and more shallow.
Let’s take the congressional race that Mr. Ferrari wrote about in his blogger-zinging editorial as an example. This race is an important local story, but it’s one that the Trumansburg Free Press has given only thin coverage. I spoke to someone who writes for the Trumansburg Free Press a while ago, asking if the paper would try to give more coverage to the race, and was told that the Free Press would wait to receive press releases to give the paper something to write about. The Free Press would not pursue information about the race, and would not be contacting the candidates on its own initiative.
Mr. Ferrari excuses his inattention to the story by saying that he’ll just report on the “local boy” running in the election – the Mike Sylvia, the candidate of the Libertarian Party, who will be lucky if he gets three percent of the vote. So what qualifies Mike Sylvia to be the “local boy”, in Steve Ferrari’s opinion? Why, he’s from Etna. Etna – that’s about a 40 minute drive from here. If that makes Mike Sylvia a “local boy” worthy of coverage, why didn’t Steve Ferrari go just 15 minutes more down the road and bring us news of the campaign of Bruce Tytler of Cortland, when he was in the race? If Etna is “local” to Trumansburg, why didn’t Ferrari bother to tell us about the Geneva candidate Ken Camera, who was a fascinating character – a progressive Republican? Ferrari’s excuse that he’ll only talk about the “local boy” just doesn’t wash, but there we are. Ferrari made his decision to not publish much information about this important story, and we readers are stuck with the spare consequences.
This is a problem that’s not unique to the Free Press and the other Finger Lakes Community Newspapers. All the newspapers in our area have given readers little information about who the candidates are, and what the issues of the race are shaping up to be. That includes the Ithaca Journal, and even the Utica Observer-Dispatch, though both Democrat Michael Arcuri and Republican Ray Meier are Utica “local boys”. Newspapers in New York’s 24th congressional district have worked under the weight of so much institutional inertia that they’ve brought readers very little information about this race – even though it’s supposed to be one of the most competitive races in a very hot congressional election year.
Bloggers, on the other hand, have written extensively about the race and its candidates – even before the race officially began. If you want to know what’s going on in this election, the blogs are the place to go. Print media has been a pale shadow, lagging weakly behind.
Keep this in mind when you read Steve Ferrari’s dismissive comment that people writing what they don’t know about is a task that should be left to bloggers: Often, when the task of writing about important stories is left to newspapers, the story isn’t written about at all.
I subscribe to the Trumansburg Free Press, because it’s a good resource that gives important information that you won’t find on the blogs – you certainly won’t find all that information about the Trumansburg area on this blog. But, just as I’m willing to respect that newspapers, although often slow and shallow in the information they provide, are valuable for what they do, I think that journalists like Steve Ferrari ought to have the largeness of mind to recognize that blogs have filled a very important and useful niche in making information available to people – a niche that newspapers never have and never could fill.