Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

I Am Not a Threat!

Spokesman-Review editor Steve Smith responded to an "Ask the Editors" question about media consolidation on December 20, 2004. Here's the final paragraph of Mr. Smith's answer:
One bright spot for the writer to consider...at the same time consolidaton sweeps mainstream media, technology is opening news reporting, writing, and editing to limitless numbers of people. The future of news reporting in this country probably belongs to the self-employed, self-trained editors and bloggers rather than the corporatized few. Anyone with a PC can be in the news business now without having to invest in a chunk of metal (the printing press) or a digitized plasmatized TV studio.
Maybe it's just me, but I thought I detected a note of unnecessary anxiety in his response.

Spokesman-Review writers like Benjamin Shors, Erica Curless, and James Hagengruber need not be unduly concerned about me and my computer running them out of business. What I and other bloggers typically post is not news, it is information and comment.

News is a finished product. It starts out as raw information supplied by human or inhuman sources. The raw information is tested for accuracy and authenticity (well, most of the time, Jayson Blair and Dan Rather excluded) and its sources are evaluated for reliability. The story gets written and judged by one or more editors (most of whom are human or reasonably close to being), and then it gets sized, placed, and printed.

Blogger postings can be accurate, well-written, and informative, but for the most part they do not qualify as news. The reportorial and editorial discipline is often missing.

But bloggers, often with highly specialized knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences can offer reporters information that can, or should, lead to more probing and insightful questions and thus better news coverage. To put it another way, bloggers can provide specialized information to the reporters. That, of course, transforms the real reporters into editors. The reporter must perform the same kind of relevance, accuracy, timeliness, and reliability checks on blogger information that an editor performs on the reporter's stories. Since the reporter's time is very limited, it stands to reason that a blogger submitting information must begin to adopt some of the institutional discipline inherent in the news business. The blogger's information must be timely, crystal-clear so it and its relevance is quickly understood by the reporter, brief, and verifiable.

So, to answer Steve Smith, his job and his reporters' and columnists' jobs are not threatened by bloggers' access to computers and email. The "delete" button on Mr. Smith's computer can remove all traces of our not-ready-for-the-news ramblings. But since newspaper editors are being forced to reduce staff, he and other editors might want to consider ways bloggers can contribute to rather than compete with those who report and edit for a living.


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