HONORING ELIZABETH NEUFFER. The International Women's Media Foundation tomorrow will present a program on global human rights in honor of Elizabeth Neuffer, a Boston Globe reporter and author who was killed while covering the war in Iraq two years ago.
The first annual Elizabeth Neuffer Forum on Human Rights and Journalism will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the John F. Kennedy Library, in Dorchester. The event is open to the public, but space is limited and reservations are required. For more information, click here.
BLOG IS A PLURAL. (With apologies to Rory O'Connor.) There are problems, shall we say, with any essay on blogging that suggests Josh Marshall, Matt Drudge, and Ana Marie Cox are doing roughly the same thing. Okay, they all use computers, so I suppose that's a start.
But Adam Cohen's rumination on blogworld in Sunday's New York Times, though earnest and well-intentioned, never achieves liftoff - and it's precisely because he seems to think blogging is some sort of new and revolutionary development. It's not. Rather, blogging software is simply a tool that makes it easy for anyone to write and publish on the Internet. (And yes, I know the Drudge Report isn't really a blog, although Drudge has a blogger's sensibility.)
The biggest problem with Cohen's piece is that he laments the lack of standards among bloggers as though these folks comprise some sort of unitary whole. But think about the three examples he offers that I've cited:
Marshall is a professional journalist who writes for mainstream publications such as the Atlantic Monthly. The stock-in-trade of his Talking Points Memo blog is his journalistic reliability, combined with a moderately liberal point of view.
Drudge is an amateur-turned-professional (in the sense that he gets paid) gossip columnist who jokes that he's right about 80 percent of the time. Well, that's probably as good a track record as most gossips, and it's certainly been enough to get his readers to keep coming back.
Cox's Wonkette blog combines semi-accurate Washington gossip with a wicked sense of humor and an obsession with anal sex. Cohen's notion of "standards" is ridiculous in such a context - either you find Cox entertaining or you don't. (Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't.)
Cohen shows how far off he is with his closing:
Bloggers may need to institutionalize ethics policies to avoid charges of hypocrisy. But the real reason for an ethical upgrade is that it is the right way to do journalism, online or offline. As blogs grow in readers and influence, bloggers should realize that if they want to reform the American media, that is going to have to include reforming themselves.
But bloggers who practice journalism already have ethics they can follow: those of journalism. Those engaged in partisan politics have a different set of standards, as do those who write about their cats or whatever. Drudge isn't hurting Marshall's credibility just because they both happen to write online any more than the Weekly World News' headlines about Bat Boy and alien invasions harm the reputation of all newspapers. And needless to say, the legitimate press has done more to damage its own standing in recent years than any outside force could manage.
Technorati.com is tracking nearly 9.8 million blogs, which is far more than the New York Times' total circulation. Granted, that's ridiculous. But still, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of regularly updated blogs out there, most written by amateurs who might have some interesting things to say about media and politics, but who can hardly be expected to conduct her- or himself like a reporter for the Times. Just as journalism provides value that bloggers can't, so, too, many bloggers bring something to the table that professional journalists can't: passion, a talent for personal observation, and in many cases deep expertise in one or two subjects.
Recently, Los Angeles Times media columnist David Shaw took a beating for what could properly be described as a rant against bloggers. The piece has disappeared into the paper's paid archives, but Jack Shafer's summary seems fair and accurate; that is, Shafer gives Shaw what he deserves.
Cohen's piece isn't as ill-considered as Shaw's, but it doesn't add much to the conversation, either. Blogs are like everything else: most of them are worthless, some are pretty good, and a tiny few are wonderful beyond description. That has nothing to do with the "blogosphere" (a word I detest, mainly because it lumps everyone in together). It's just life.