Weblogs: The unspun zone
: Jay Rosen writes about that theatre of the absurd, the post-debate campaign spin alley. As always, Jay has an insightful and provocative pespective about this incestuous and essentially useless practice of the political/journalistic combine. (My only complaint with him is that I don’t have the time to read and think during the week. He keeps writing smarter but longer and I keep having less time to contemplate what he says. So I’m glad he posted this one in time for a Saturday.) Instead of me quoting a hundred smart sentences, why don’t you just go read it now and then come back…
Welcome back. Jay, as you saw, suggests inviting 100 outsiders into spin alley to unravel it. Nice idea. But I’ll take that one step over the line and advise campaign journalists instead:
Leave the spin alley. Get the hell out of there. Run for your professional lives! For there’s nothing you’ll actually learn there; as Jay says, there’s no real information — nothing we don’t already know — in that place.
So better yet, don’t even go to the debate or spin alley. Go find the nearest bar and watch the blatherfest on TV with the rest of us. And then go write your post-debate piece and see whether you, in fact, have anything to add — any new information, any real perspective, any check on the truth or untruth of what we were just told. That would give us the true no-spin zone.
Oh, but wait a second, that already exists on couches across America thanks to these things we call blogs. That’s exactly what we do.
We are the unspun zone.
Right now, that’s because we’re still small and those in power haven’t woken up to the need to spin us and wouldn’t know how to get to us even if they wanted to (since we are a distributed marketplace of opinion; we’re on our couches, not in the alley; how inconvenient and inconsiderate of us). That will change; it already is changing. Josh Marshall said at Yale’s blog conference that he gets spin email; so do other prominent bloggers. But to protect themselves and this new medium and the citizens they represent, I suggest you let your filters kill those missives.
It’s just spin spam.
If you open it and quote it, you risk doing to weblogs what journalists have done to journalism; you risk falling in the trap about which Jay warns: You turn news into a commodity.
That’s the real problem with spin alley: Everybody says the same thing and then there’s no reason to pay attention to anyone who says it or certainly to seek them out. You might as well just read GoogleNews.
But bloggers are, so far, different: After the debate, I want to see what various of you say just because you are unspun. I want to hear the voice and views of the citizens and so I turn to citizens’ media. Oh, there’s spin there, all right. But it’s our spin.
If established media were smart, they would not to go spin alley after the debate. They would go to blogs to hear what opinions and fact-checking and new information the people, the voters, the citizen journalists have.
I say that’s a good path to follow in all coverage, not just of debates. As I’ve said here before, if I ran a newspaper (not likely) I would declare flack-free days and trumpet it on the front page and even raise my price: All the information in today’s paper came because real journalists went out to hunt it down on your behalf. That would be information you couldn’t find on your own. That wouldn’t be no stinkin’ commodity. That would be real news.
If you turn around and read weblogs and forums and such and print what they say and ask them what they think, you wouldn’t just be reporting out; you’d be listening back and responding and joining in the discussion. That would get you closer and closer to what the people think and want. That would actually be good for democracy. For as I’ve been all too fond of saying here lately, news is a conversation. Democracy is a conversation, too.
In the old days, pre-Internet, if you wanted to hear what the people had to say, you had to (a) go to a bar where they were watching the debate or (b) hold an expensive survey. But now, thanks to the Internet and weblogs, all you have to do is click. No spin alley. No spin surveys. No spin spam.
Welcome to the unspun zone.
: See also Terry Teachout on the sorry universe of syndicated op-ed columnists:
…my guess is that the buzz in opinion journalism has shifted to the blogosphere, partly because it’s new and partly because it’s so much less rule-bound. You can say anything you want on a blog…. Just as important, you can say it right now, not next Tuesday. Needless to say, none of this is true on an op-ed page, or anywhere else in a newspaper, for that matter.
The blogosphere… is for the most part the creation of non-journalists and amateurs for whom such time-honored traditions carry no weight.