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SATURDAY, MAY 28, 2016
For the past few years now, we've seen the media adopt Blogging as a reliable/newsworthy voice on a variety of topics ranging from politics, to gardening tips. The change happened right about the time when - and was in part due to - Dan Rather relying on a forged set of documents, which happened to be uncovered by bloggers. That was when, suddenly, blogging was taken seriously and it had purpose. It was no longer regarded as a simple peronsal journal to be shared among friends. It became another form of media, and one that was immediate, readily available and free.

There's no doubt that blogging has changed media, both in print and on television. News has gone from a morning paper/nightly news event to a 24-hour news cycle which has completely reshaped the world. The 2008 election alone has been an altogether different type of election - one in which nominees, runners for the nominations, surrogates, et. al had to constantly be on watch, and be weary of their own words. Former President Bill Clinton was caught by this many times over, saying one thing off hand to one reporter was no longer a small local affair. It would only moments later become a country-wide, even global affair as it would be reported on the internet, uploaded to YouTube, and displayed to the masses. Small flubs are no longer small. One reason for Obama's own success is due to his campaign's overall familiarity with the internet, and adopting it as one of it's primary campaigning stumps. The e-stump. But despite this Obama himself fell victim to the endless repository of information that is on the internet - with old clips of Reverand Wright, to his own arguable flip-flops on certain issues.

News shows are constantly speaking of "what the bloggers are saying" - sometimes featuring bloggers on their show. In fact, many news anchors and political pundits have their own blogs. It's certainly a different media world. And in all this lies a great danger. There's a danger for media corporations, as internet media becomes more common place, and a far cheaper alternative. There's a danger for political parties, and politicians who have to constantly watch what they say, and who they say it to - more so than ever before. But most importantly, there's a danger for us - the consumers of the news.

There's been increased criticism on media lately, as many news channels have been taking on more and more sponsors. A more recent example being a news show on Fox affiliate, KVVU, which has had McDonald's iced Lattes sitting before the anchors.1 The criticism being that a news show would be less likely to report any negative stories on a sponsor out of fear of losing the sponsorship. Another fear being that sponsors could influence the reporting of positive stories - such as the reporting of the benefits from pharmaceuticals. And, unfortunately for the media, it seems they'll be caught in a vicious cycle: in order to be relevant, and compete with free media sources, they need the sponsorships to afford the advertisements and air time (what free media sources can't do themselves). However, the sponsorships they then obtain affect the relevance of their news, making it harder for them to compete.

And here again, the danger is upon us, the consumers. As one media outlet becomes heavily biased towards particular products, the free alternative becomes more attractive. But the free alternatives come with many stipulations that are not spoken of.

For one - a major corporation backing a news outlet is in many ways a good thing, not a bad thing. The reason being accountability. The news may be biased, but it also has to be as unbiased as possible against non-sponsors. A biased story of defamation can wind up in a lawsuit. A forged document can wind up in a legendary anchorman being fired. Corporations have someone to answer to - in some cases it's the law, in other cases its share holders. If the corporation is backing a news outlet that is not able to produce something of quality, its stock goes down. The accountability placed behind this media is, for us consumers, a very good thing. It means we can relax a bit, and be a little less scrutinous of the news we receive. Of course, one should always be scrutinous, but the key idea here is simple: reputable sources. This just isn't the case in the blogging world. While it's certainly to the benefit of the blogger to be reputable, to offer reliable news - there is less need to. The internet comes with a veil of anonymity. A blogger could potentially face legal action, but it's far easier to pass a blog off as fictional opinionated writing than it is to pass of an hour long news editiorial show. A blogger also doesn't have the same sort of journalistic ethical guidelines - "off the record" doesn't need to mean off the record. A blogger, stripped of their "journalistic credentials" can simply reinvent themselves - as many operate under pseudonyms to protect their identity. In the end, blogs put the onus on the consumer to do a lot more research, and forces the consumer to be a lot more scrutinizing.

Some may not view this as a bad thing, after all there are already far too many who have blind faith in what they are told. My fear is that these same people will be as trusting with what blogs report, as what the corporate media reports - and there is far more opportunity for bias in the blog world. These are the consumers who are the primary target of political ads, for example. Those who do not necessarily follow the news, do not know on any given day, which state Obama or McCain is in - who have long ago decided who they'll be voting for, but whose opinions are only hardened by 5-seconds, out-of-context sound bytes. And unfortunately for the rest of us, these consumers are very often what comprise the majority.

The rest of us are affected very little by the huge emergence of blogging in the media world. In fact, it's helped us out more so. It's allowed us to be able to research more, gather more information, read a variety of opinions, and it's also allowed us to realize when the corporate media got it wrong (Dan Rather's forged documents case being one of the cases we may have otherwise never known about).

So where does that really leave us? Or better yet, where should we - as consumers of media, as bloggers, as corporate media, and as politicians, all head? In my mind, there's only one logical direction, and thankfully we already seem to be headed in this direction. To put is as simplistically as possible: the corporate media reports the news, the bloggers scrutinize the corporate media, the competing corporate media stations report the scrutiny of the bloggers, in turn scrutinizing the bloggers. For the politicians, this will mean having to watch what they say - all the time. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing: they could either watch what they say, or they could resolve to just stop saying/doing things that are objectionable, corrupt, and damaging to their career and to the public. And finally, as for those who ignore the media, and all forms of it, they can rest assured that their own ignorance will guarantee their bliss.

If there was one moment when the internet community defined the media - when it journalism - it was the day Dan Rather was put to shame by bloggers...

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