Striking a blow for blogs

Dateline: Fri 08 Jun 2007

Jay Rosen, who gave credence to the term "citizen journalism" long before there were blogs, has written a great piece about the first Amendment prowess of blogs today.

Thanks to reader Jim Burns for sending it my way.

Rosen tells five stories of how bloggers made a difference -- (take that Dennis Ryerson, who dismisses bloggers as "that noise.")

Rosen's examples include Chris Allbritton, a former AP and newspaper reporter who asked readers of his blog to send him to Iraq; in return, he promised them straight and honest reporting, no hype. With $14,500 in donations, he took off for Iraq in 2003. His site drew as many as 23,000 readers.

Says Rosen: "This is journalism without the media. I leave you to contemplate the implications of that. But it was one of the events that caused me to start my own blog."

No. 2 is the flap kicked off when Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi praised Strom Thurmond at his 100th birthday.

Said Lott, a powerhouse in the GOP:

"'I want to say this about my state,' he said. 'When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years either." He was referring to Thurmond's 1948 third-party campaign for president, which was an explicitly racist campaign. So what was Trent Lott saying in 2002? That a segregationist president would have been good for America in 1948? "

Reporters were present, but only one tiny story emerged on ABC, which was then picked up by the bloggers. What the straight press ignored, the bloggers had a field day with.

Notes Rosen:

"Here's the part of the story I want you to focus on: the chances of a television producer from CBS or a style reporter from the Washington Post not knowing enough history to see any import in Trent Lott's comments were pretty high. But the chances of the interconnected blogosphere not knowing this background were zero. To this day professional journalists do not understand this fact, even though it was one of the things that helped sink Dan Rather when his badly flawed report on President Bush's National Guard service was attacked (and sunk) by bloggers and their readers."

His other examples include the blog FireDogLake, which totally owned coverage of the Lewis Libby trial; an investigative blog TPM Muckracker which asked its readers to wade thru 3,000 pages of Justice Department findings in the case of the seven fired federal prosecutors -- and got great results -- and finally, ending on a sour note, the story of John Markoff, the New York Times tech reporter, who demonstrated he simply does not get blogging. He compared it to CB radio noise.

Here is Rosen's wonderful conclusion:

"The most famous words ever written about freedom of the press are in the U.S. Constitution: "Congress shall make no law..." But the second most famous words come from the critic A.J. Liebling: "freedom of the press belongs to those who own one." Well, freedom of the press still belongs to those who own one, and blogging means practically anyone can own one. That is the Number One reason why blogs--and this discussion--matter.

"With blogging, an awkward term, we designate a fairly beautiful thing: the extension to many more people of a free press franchise, the right to publish your thoughts to the world.

Wherever blogging spreads the dramas of free expression follow. A blog, you see, is a little First Amendment machine."

Thanks Jay and Jim.


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