Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Blog Bashing at the Statesman

Gardner Selby, the Austin Statesman's newest political reporter, mentioned Grits in today's paper as part of the current statewide trend of MSM blog-bashing. In a hilarious pot-calling-the-kettle-black moment, Selby has Rick Perry's spokesman portray blogs as inaccurate or prone to misstatements, picking especially on Eileen Smith's recent post about the Governor. (She gave her side here.)

What a joke! The Statesman is like the Red Queen of Texas journalism: They're routinely wrong three times before breakfast!

And speaking of breakfast, while Selby wants to pick on one disputable statement of Smith's, he ignores the fact that his own paper can't keep up in the new environment. Grits and other blogs routinely scoop the Statesman and the MSM on important stuff. If you're a Grits reader, for example, you knew about proposals for probation reform to stem the overincarceration crisis weeks before Statesman readers. Bloggers broke the story about legislation promoted by Southwestern Bell to ban free municipal wireless.

Indeed, there are a lot of stories on Grits that you've never seen in the Statesman:
The whole article shows a grave misunderstanding of the new media and dynamics they create. Are bloggers really amateurs and know-nothings, as Selby and the Governor's spokesman would have it? Hardly. Here's an example of the real-world relationship between the MSM and blogging that tells a different story.

About ten days ago, civil right groups released a statewide report on racial profiling data, and I M.C.'d the press conference at the capital. I was quoted widely in the media, but it was impossible to discuss the complicated issue in any detail in the sound-bite form the MSM demands. So I provided more detailed analysis on the blog. Similarly, the following week Austin PD released its new 2004 racial profiling data, and I was again quoted in the Statesman story, but just a few lines, and they didn't quote all the points I thought needed making. So again, I authored a blog post with a more detailed analysis than I was able to provide in a sound bite.

That's why it's a cheap shot to say all blogs are unreliable sources. I'm who the Statesman went to for their analysis! So why are my comments there somehow reputable, and my comments on the blog somehow tainted? In reality, the blog just allows me more room for nuance and detail. MSM reporters aren't magicians; they use the same sources as everyone else. In many Grits postings, at least those with original material, I'm analyzing government reports and public records that are available for the MSM, too. But they're not as focused on criminal justice stuff as I am, so Grits routinely looks at such documents earlier, and more thoroughly, than any daily newspaper reporter.

Blogs can't replace the MSM, and I doubt most bloggers would want to. We supplement mainstream media instead of usurping it, providing space to address topics that the self-appointed gatekeepers of public opinion don't think are important, or drawing out implications from the news. The best blogs are as reliable and accurate as the best of the MSM -- but that means that we're all wrong, some of the time.