This week may be called anti-indie journalism week. Consider these three stories:
- A New York Times reporter lashed out against blogger critics. Though the original criticism of his piece may have been unfounded, James Risen overreacted in an interview with Yahoo! news, demanding that bloggers “do their own reporting instead of sitting around in their pajamas.”
- A Congressman, questioned by a camera-wielding student, demands to see credentials. Rep. Bob Etheridge didn’t just refuse to answer the question. He turned the interview around on the reporter and made like an Arizona law enforcement official, claiming “I have a right to know who you are.” (Although, an Arizona law enforcement official who manhandled a suspect like Etheridge did probably would have to spend some time on suspension.)
- The Federal Trade Commission held a discussion on its study on re-inventing journalism.
Each story, in its own way, is based on a lack of understanding of the modern media landscape. But door number three is the most egregious.
Risen’s comments about bloggers could be appropriate – the downside of a media universe with more outlets is that there are more outlets tat just spew crap, and it is up to the reader to be more discerning. He doesn’t summarily dismiss the concept of blogs, though he does come off as an arrogant schmuck. Similarly, the “student” who questioned Etheridge never identified himself as a reporter, which would have been the smart thing to do.
The FTC, on the other hand, is just way out in left field. The document, which outlines options such as granting tax-exempt status or other allowing reporters to copyright “hot news.” Really, though, these recommendations are simply reactions to the fact that print newspapers have fallen on hard times:
Although many of the issues confronting journalism cut across different news media platforms, such as broadcast television and radio, most of the discussion in this document will use the perspective of newspapers to exemplify the issues facing journalism as a whole. Studies have shown that newspapers typically provide the largest quantity of original news to consumers over any given period of time. We include within the term “newspapers” online news websites run either by an existing newspaper or by an online-only news organization.
That an online news aggregator like the Drudge Report would seem to count as a newspaper to the FTC isn’t the biggest problem. The big problem is the concept of establishment journalism, which is the bedrock of the FTC report: professional and somehow specially qualified reporters paid to investigate and package stories for consumption by the reader. That mindset is what leads a reporter for a prominent newspaper to lash out at internet critics or a Congressman to take umbrage with a question from a reporter without a press pass.
When the reporter or the politician does thinks that way, it’s just stupid. When the FTC thinks that way, it could also become the law.