It has been a very, very long time since I’ve written here. I write almost daily on Facebook and Twitter, but haven’t wandered over to this blog. I’m not sure why, exactly, though the modern urge to communicate in 140 characters is beginning to be the norm. And yet, I’m feeling the need to express myself in a more complete – if less concise – form. In any case, if you’re still with me, thank you.
I’m teaching at the local high school this week. I’ve been a visiting presenter at the invitation of the English teacher, and we’ve been talking to the students about research and how it may be more intense in college. In addition to the things I usually talk about, the teacher has asked me to talk about blogs and journalism and how the two may differ, and when it might be appropriate to cite a blog.
This took me on a path to research what blogs are out there these days, and I was a bit surprised at the “legitimate” organizations that now have blogs as part of their media reach. I’ve been blogging for a while now, and when I first started (cue the, “Why, back in my day…”) blogs were dismissed as being the ramblings of people unknown. Blogs were considered entertaining and perhaps informative, but in most cases not authoritative. That seems to have changed.
A thousand years ago, I switched majors in college from music (voice) to journalism, largely because of the influence “All the President’s Men” had on my young crusading spirit. (On a side note, I have discovered that I am descended from real Crusaders…but that’s another post.) I loved the idea of researching stories, uncovering misdeeds, righting wrongs, saving the world…you get the idea. Journalism rode in on a white horse, saving the day from tyranny and preserving the American Way. In my mind, the Fourth Estate was essential to democracy, ensuring that the other three branches of government were doing the things they were supposed to do and bringing to light abuses of power.
I’m not sure I believe that the Journalism I admired as a young woman exists any longer. These days I see the mainstream media as part of an entertainment complex rather than as a heroic and patriotic enterprise. The biases in media are insidious, and are all the more dangerous because – for the most part – they are hidden. When I teach students about research and biases and how to determine whether a source has an agenda, it’s difficult to talk about the mainstream media. In doing a search on NBC, Fox, and CBS news channels, all three talk about entertainment, rather than journalism.
In contrast, news-related blogs – especially those that are politically driven – tell the reader what their bias is, without equivocation. Daily Kos tells us that, “This is a Democratic blog, a partisan blog.” Right Wisconsin (as if the name isn’t enough of a hint) tells us that, “We are a new distribution channel for conservative ideas.” This, I tell my students, is exactly what a site should say. It’s okay to have a bias, as long as you tell the reader up front that you have this lens through which you’re seeing the world. If a site doesn’t tell you what their bias is, if they purport to be unbiased in their views but have a tendency to lean one way or the other….that’s when you should be a bit suspicious.
This all makes me think that the growing trend of citizen journalism will continue to grow, and perhaps is closer to the ideal as put forth in the constitution. I still believe that the Fourth Estate is essential to democracy. I’m not sure who inhabits that Estate, however, and who will take it into the future.