The Information Reformation

By GotDesign

NOTE: The following is a "Reflection Paper" written for my Management 684: Managing Creativity class as part of my MBA program.

“All the News That’s Fit to Print,” is the banner motto for the New York Times. All of the major news media make similar boasts, but are they really the best sources for information today? For most Americans, the mainstream media is the only source of their news intake. Ma and Pa Kettle, having just finished their supper, have now settled down in their living room to watch the evening news. Like so many other Americans, this is the only news they’ll get. For previous generations, Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America. But recent scandals have sullied the reputations of the major media outlets. Is there another source of news and information?

The Internet has been a medium through which the news has been distributed throughout the world. The Chinese government has even been trying to restrict Internet access to keep its citizenry from knowing what is really going on in the world. But the most important change in the news media has been how news and information is presented. Web logs, also known as “blogs,” are revolutionizing the way news is being reported. Blogs are basically online journals posted and maintained by anyone who has access to the Internet. These blogs range in subject matter from the inane — hobbies, personal interests, etc. — to the philosophic. The blogs that are currently changing the news media are those who have risen up to challenge the reporting we have all taken for granted. But, why should blogs be challenging the mainstream media? Why should the casual reader vest any importance in the writings of bloggers?

During the 2004 Presidential campaign season, CBS News and 60 Minutes released a story wherein they alleged that President George Bush had, during his service in the Texas Air National Guard, had refused orders and had been absent without official leave (AWOL). The CBS News team posted memos they had received to their website as substantiation of their claims. Within 2 hours of the posting of these memos, bloggers at both and PowerLine began finding inconsistencies with the documents. Within a few more hours, many were already calling the memos forgeries. The entire story was cast into serious doubt within one day of its release. It was almost a week before any mainstream media source began to give the “Memo-gate” or “Rather-gate” story any consideration. Since that time, Dan Rather, who anchored the story, has gone into retirement and a number of CBS News producers and executives have either been fired or asked to resign.

Another more recent example of the importance of bloggers is the recent comments made by CNN News chief Eason Jordan at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. During a panel discussion being conducted by David Gergen (Director of Public Leadership, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University), Mr. Jordan made the assertion the U.S. troops were specifically “targeting” journalists in Iraq. Mr. Jordan was immediately contacted for comment about his remarks but failed to make any statements for several days. Other attendees of the discussion were contacted to confirm Mr. Jordan’s comments and assess his intent in making them. Two members of the U.S. Congress, Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank both commented that they felt Jordan was claiming that the U.S. military was actively assassinating journalists in Iraq. In fact, Mr. Jordan had made this claim before. On November 19, 2004, Mr. Jordan made claims that U.S. troops were torturing journalists in Iraq. However, at no point did Mr. Jordan offer any evidence of such alleged abuses and refused requests for such. The official blog of the World Economic Forum was the first to report Mr. Jordan’s comments and the “blogosphere” (the term for the collective world of blogs and bloggers) was the only media source to follow the story. Mr. Jordan announced his resignation from CNN News on Friday, February 11th.

In both of these cases, the blogosphere has led the charge in pursuing the facts of the issues at hand. And these are only two examples among many thousands. But why should we believe these bloggers? One of the constant complaints of the mainstream media about blogs is that they have no fact-checking constraints and so they cannot be trusted. But, you will find that stories are constantly fact-checked by readers and bloggers will post corrections, retractions and clarifications. Another aspersion cast at bloggers is that they “pajama-clad nobodies” who post from their parents’ computer in the basement. Hugh Hewitt, nationally syndicated talk show host, former aid to President Richard Nixon, and law professor, is among the most widely acknowledged leaders in the blogosphere. Mr. Hewitt, whose recent book — Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World — details the way bloggers are changing the media landscape. In a recent interview on Dr. Albert Mohler’s radio program, Mr. Hewitt likened the influence of blogs to that of the Gutenberg printing press. It was Gutenberg’s introduction of the printing press in the latter 15th century that allowed for the widespread distribution of Martin Luther’s writings and the spread of the Protestant Reformation. In the same way, blogs are democratizing the news media by allowing the general population to publish and make commentary on news and information with greater speed than the traditional media. And while the mainstream media may still disparage bloggers as “pajama-clad wannabes,” there are approximately 40,000 such “wannabes” registering new blogs every day. More and more blogs are taking readership/viewership away from the mainstream media due to the recognition of certain biases within the news media.

Like the Reformation, one has to question how the mainstream media “Papacy” will respond to the growing blogosphere. Some media outlets have started to buy out certain blogs in order to assimilate them and add blogging to their media resources. Some such blogs have maintained their character and a degree of independence, but others have turned their newly purchased blogs into another mouthpiece for the parent organization. Will there be a counter-reformation led by the mainstream media against the blogs, or will changes be made in the media similar to those changes Luther sought in the Catholic Church? Time will tell. As Mr. Hewitt said in a recent e-mail, “The blogosphere shows constant adaptation and innovation, assuring quality leaps every few months or even weeks as more and better bloggers enter the area.” There can be no doubt, as blogs proliferate, their importance and impact will continue to grow.


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