Posted by: cjobrien | 2 March 2008

Are Blogs Threatening Local Newspapers?

 The February 19 edition of the Lassen County Times ran an editorial by Barbara France that touched on a number of subjects regarding what she perceives of as human nature. Much of it was of little interest to me, until I came to the last several paragraphs:

A new style of insulting others to look or feel good has also hit the World Wide Web. Bloggers do not publish what happened but rather their opinion of what happened. Also bloggers do not ridicule themselves, their beliefs, ideas or opinions. They think they are the sole proprietors of what is right and the authority criticize what they think is wrong. They call it justifiable criticism; I call it hawking. Bloggers remind me of the salesman that stands on the back of a wagon touting the wonders of some elixir. Many could easily work for a tabloid paper that never allows anyone to verify the information.

The sad truth is if they wrote nice things about people, no one would read their blogs. Those who read the blogs are just as guilty of wanting to talk bad about someone.

I have yet to know anyone who has logged onto a blog and was happy with what he or she read. Usually, the response is, “Oh my gosh, did you read that blog. How can someone write that and get away with it”.

I had three immediate thoughts upon reading that editorial. The first two were somewhat flippant but hide a broader truth beneath their surface. First, I find it really, really, really ironic that the Lassen County Times in general and its editorial staff in particular, is complaining about bloggers being insulting and lacking verifiable information. That’s chutzpah. Secondly, the editorial staff lives in a small world.

However, the third thought I had is probably at the root cause of why that editorial was written: the editorial staff at the Lassen County Times understands they are losing their monopoly on information. They can no longer write their own stories with unverified information and get away with it. In recent years they’ve been challenged on those views – most recently by the blogging community – and the LCT editorial staff is not comfortable being challenged so openly.

Yes, there are blogs that revel in causing controversy where none exists and insulting individuals for their beliefs, whatever political spectrum they may come from. But is any other vehicle for disseminating information any different? Newspapers run that gamut. Certainly televised media does (look at anyone who has Ann Coulter on their broadcast – her entire DNA structure is designed to insult people! – by the way, hers is the one case where I might actually cop to an intelligent designer, but not one that has any kind of class). And yes, blogs can be contentious specifically to draw attention to themselves and for that reason many people will gravitate to them (I would argue, however, that that is not so much a human trait as it is an American trait). Blogs can be therapeutic as well – I’ve admitted to this myself: I often write in a combative way that does not usually reflect my one-on-one personality – it allows many of us to “get things off our chest”.

But the fundamental purpose of blogs (at least the ones that I generally read) is to offer information. Blogs are not just about opinion as the LCT laments. Certainly opinion enters into it, but blogs are mostly about providing information and most are specific to certain subjects. Again, I find the LCT’s complain about blogs incredibly ironic given its constant propensity to cherry-pick information and present horrendously biased stories and opinions. I started this blog specifically to begin countering much of the ant-science bias I saw at the local level (LCT being a largely pro-fundamentalist, ant-science newspaper). The whole point of the blogs and bloggers I am associated with is to counter false information that is spread to the bulk of the populace, largely from news sources like the LCT. People are free to look for and find alternative sources of information and use that to make decisions – the fact they are turning to blogs with greater frequency says more about the failure of traditional news sources to either report correctly, or to report in unbiased fashion. Unfortunately, many people like the LCT editorial staff are so used to not having their ideas and beliefs questioned in open forums that they perceive of such critique as “insulting”, never realizing that the expression of their own beliefs may be just as insulting to someone else. The blogosphere is about argument, critique, and the free exchange of ideas – something not really appreciated by the LCT staff. Interestingly, the fact that the LCT has never mentioned local blogs by name suggests to me they are feeling the sting of the information competition. It doesn’t bother me – I kind of like being addressed in the vein of “He Who Shall Not Be Named”.

The suggestion that bloggers “do not publish what happened but rather their opinion of what happened” shows a great deal of journalistic ignorance and can only come from someone who thinks their own belief system should be above critique. That statement is also cover for a more fundamental fear among the LCT editorials staff: people are going elsewhere to “check” on the information being given by the local paper. Over the last several years I have openly critiqued the LCT for its articles and editorials. No doubt some were perceived of as “insulting” but people still have the choice to read or not. The fact that people often responded with their own level of “insult” just tells me that I really hit home with ideas and facts. I often now introduce myself at parties as the local “Self Righteous, Anti-God, Humanistic Dribbler“.

The LCT is no longer the only mechanism for publishing alternative viewpoints in Lassen County. I’ll probably never write another letter or editorial to the Times. There’s no longer a need. Before I started my blog people on the street would ask me “When are you going to write a letter responding to the Times“? – now they ask, “When is Northstate Science going to respond to the Times“? And that scares the Times.

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