Mainstreaming media

Mainstreaming media

: David Weinberger — one of the five smartest and most decent people I’ve met in blogs (go ahead and guess the other four) — fired himself from the (unpaid) blog gig on MSNBC after they suggested he should find mainstream blog reaction to that rude and ridiculous phooey ptooey into Jane Fonda’s face. Go read his tale here and then Ed Cone’s reaction and return and I’ll tell you mine:

I like working with MSNBC on the blog segments, but I do it under different circumstances:

First, I’ve done TV, back in the days when I was a TV critic and I was called on to give views from the mountaintop on such profound topics as whither Cosby or whether Leno. So I’ve already made a fool of myself and experienced the hoo-ha of it all and that strange wave of sweaty embarrassment that comes over you when the lights go off.

Second, I’m already mediaman (by day and blogboy by night). I sold out to the man at age 17 — and became the man sometime in my 30s — and so I’m all too accustomed to the means and modes of mainstream media.

Third, because I work only a few miles from, as they say, MSNBC World Headquarters in beautiful downtown Secaucus, New Jersey, I’ve been in the studio many times and I’ve gotten to know and like the producers on Connected, the show that does most of the blog segments. Sharon Newman, the exec producer, is great: a pro’s pro who’s decisive and supportive and fun (when she speaks into my ear after a segment and tells me I done good when I fear I just went over the top, it makes everything OK). Her team of hard-working producers is wonderful to work with. The daytime booking boss, Mike Tanaka, was a dorm neighbor in college. Our worldwide blog friend Joe Trippi is involved. Cohost Monica Crowley has been warm and welcoming. And Ron Reagan called me Blog Daddy. So I have a direct connection you just don’t get when you only stare into a black eye.

I have not yet had a case where they tried to get me to say something with which I would be uncomfortable — and if they had, I wouldn’t have done it. I ask what stories they are working on for the show to see whether I can find related blog comment (and sometimes, that yields more than one blog segment), but I often go in a different direction. A few times, they asked me whether I could find blog comment on a story they were working on, I said I couldn’t, and they were fine with it. Once, though, I pooh-poohed their suggestion and I was wrong: The second time they wanted me to find Terry Schiavo blog links, I rolled my eyes and sighed and said that I was sure I couldn’t because the first time I’d tried, all I saw was blog prayers (an oxymoron, to be sure). But then I looked for Schaivo discussion and I found I was way off: There was a flood of comment from many perspectives. By the fourth or fifth time I did Schiavo links, though, I will also confess that we were well into OD territory.

David objects to being asked to find mainstream bloggers from column-A and column-B — as is the cable news habit — on a mainstream topic. I understand that.

But I have found that I have been able to leave the mainstream often. In the midst of the pretty-much-endless fawnfest over Pope Benedict XVI, I was glad to be able to quote from Andrew Sullivan’s fears and trepidations at length. I have said more than once that blogs do not give the attention to Michael Jackson that TV news does and in one case — when MSNBC and other cable networks put up clocks waiting for Jackson to arrive in court — I quoted none other than David Weinberger expressing disgust at this and said that the hosts and I were at fault in this OD. I’ve talked about Maylasian blog pioneer Jeff Ooi’s and Bahraini bloggers’ problems with authorities. I’ve had plenty of bloggers I’ve quoted, apparently out of nowhere, who’ve email me and asked where the hell I found them (that’s my secret). I’ve quoted mainstream bloggers here and there but most of the time, I’ve tried to find new voices I hadn’t read before.

So why do I do this? Well, so far, it ain’t for the money (zilch). Instead, I do it for:

1. Ego. I’ll admit it. I like being on TV.

2. New voices. I’m not sure I deserve credit for this — even though she has given me some — but I quoted LaShawn Barber — even though she and I disagree about many or most topics — and she has ended up on MSNBC often. I got Kathy Shaidle in on the pope segment the other night. It’s good to see big media finally listen to the voices of new people. And I measure diversty not by gender or race but by the freshness of the perspective.

3. Promoting blogs. Triumphalist that I am, I’m glad to see big media include citizens’ media. And on MSNBC, vs. CNN, they have bloggers quoting bloggers.

4. Learning. I am learning a helluva about TV. As anyone who has watched any of my segments can attest, I have a lot more to learn. But I’ve gotten more comfortable staring into that black eye and telling a story. And I’m still jazzed that I got to broadcast from my den on my blogcam.

Could the segments be better? Of course. Are there issues? Yes, there are: As I mentioned once, they had a blogger on during the Schaivo story who went off a deepend and started talking about how Terry talked when they took the tubes out (and they didn’t have a means of either making sure the guy wouldn’t go wacky or issuing a caveat when he did… welcome to open TV). Would I chose every topic I report on? No, but neither would I have chosen many of the stories I had to write for newspapers or magazines (but in blogs, I get to chose every story I mention — and I’m spoiled now).

Having said all that, I absolutely understand David’s discomfort and support his decision (as he supports mine to be on the segments). Everytime I drive to the MSNBC studio, I drive by the Channel 9 studios where, when I was a critic, I walked off a tacky talk show because I was uncomfortasble.

David’s perspective is an important lesson for any mainstream media outlet trying to find ways to work with citizen journalists: One perspective, one mindset, one medium does not automatically and easily fit the other’s mold.

But I am disappointed with a few of the comments under David’s post, thwapping a rubber hammer under the kneecap to kick big, bad mainstream media for being big and bad.

I give points to MSNBC for recognizing and listening to and promoting blogs — and bloggers — and I look forward to seeing more of this on other networks and channels and shows in other publications. Every first step will be imperfect, but it’s a first step toward opening media to new voices.