Wednesday, July 14, 2004

THE LAST GATEKEEPER. I suppose it's not fair to stick it to Tom McPhail on the basis of one short quote in the current USA Today. But I'll do it anyway: he would expect no less.

McPhail, a journalism professor at the University of Missouri, is quoted in a piece by Peter Johnson on the credentialing of bloggers at the Democratic National Convention:

That bloggers get front seats bothers Tom McPhail, a journalism professor at the University of Missouri.

"They're certainly not committed to being objective. They thrive on rumor and innuendo," McPhail says. Bloggers "should be put in a different category, like 'pretend' journalists."

Where does one even begin? Well, okay. I'll begin with something small: I'm not sure what Johnson means by "front seats." Most bloggers, I imagine, will be allowed to roam the perimeter, outside the convention hall, and to work in a press area for journalists from smaller news organizations, such as Farm Implements Quarterly or some such thing.

But to get back to McPhail. Surely he knows that some journalists have jobs in which they are expected to be "objective," whatever that means (try "fair"), and some are lucky enough to be opinion-mongers.

Most of the best bloggers - Josh Marshall, Andrew Sullivan, Eric Alterman, Danny Schechter - write for print publications, too. Mickey Kaus, who's admittedly gone a bit daft with his Kerry hatred, but who's still entertaining, is a longtime print veteran. Besides, he blogs for Slate. Isn't that a non-pretend news organization?

But all this takes McPhail's observations too seriously. The days of gatekeeper journalism are long gone. Letting bloggers in is no different from credentialing alternative weeklies - or, for that matter, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, and Tom Brokaw.

The old order is dying. I guess word hasn't gotten out to Missouri. (Via Romenesko.)


Anonymous said...

I agree with Dan. Times are changing. But I think that the political media output from the national conventions should have some connection to reality and not be nonsense/ rumour from some blooger on the left or right. Tom McPhail who began his career with my friend Marshall McLuhan at the University of Toronto

Dan Kennedy said...

Tom -- Thanks for checking in. Now, I know you've got something more substantive to say than your short quote in USA Today. I invite you to make it here. I just don't see how we can start getting into value judgments about journalists. This is a craft, not a profession, and there are no standards except those we choose to impose upon ourselves.

How would you choose between a blogger like Josh Marshall, whose Talking Points Memo is recognizable as traditional journalism in every way except that it's self-published and online, and, say, a reporter for the New York Post, which recently published the completely unsubstantiated rumor that Dick Gephardt would be John Kerry's running mate? (I realize that wasn't the fault of any of the Post's reporters, but it's the best example I can think of off the top of my head.) Other than quality, what is the difference between Marshall (Josh, not McLuhan!) and the rumor-mongers of the right and the left whom you despise? And isn't quality always a subjective judgment?

Ultimately, of course, there is a numbers problem. If every blogger were credentialed, we might eventually end up with a situation in which 50,000 people were descending on the convention. (On the other hand, I predict that this will be the last year of conventions as we know them.) I'm also not quite sure why bloggers want credentials; it strikes me that they would do better watching the proceedings on television and, if they want to come to Boston, following the action outside the FleetCenter.

But the First Amendment is for everyone, not just those of us who work for established news organizations.