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.

  • For Schiavo, a Florida attorney had a great resource page, much better than all the opinionating. I hope he got mentioned (or if not, does in any follow-up):

  • It so happens I did mention his site.

  • Who knows, maybe MSNBC has changed its stripes in the years I have boycotted it, and because of them, all other cable networks. Their timely hiring of Frank Luntz at just the Right time, so to speak, or Bush v Gore 2000, tainted them in much the same way that Fox News has tainted itself with its disregard for the truth, nay, actively working against the truth.
    You mention you do it for the ego. As the ancient Chinese I Ching wisely cautions…the ego will take the wrong message and run the wrong way with it.
    You’re too old to be feeding your ego. Transcend the sumbitch. It’s your job as a human being.
    If you don’t, you will be just like every other sumbitch in the MSM who is also merely pumping up I, me, mine…and growing ever more shallow with each stroke of the self.
    There’s a word for that.
    – Dave

  • Just to second a few of your points, Jeff:
    – I’m glad they’re doing the segments; your points 1-4 ring true. The old world can only understand the new world step by step, and and I’m glad you’re the blogdaddy guiding them by the hand. You know I’m a fan of yours, an admirer of your honesty and clarity and passion. It’s especially important to have you working with the msm because you know both worlds.
    – In my little interaction with the producers, they were terrific personally. Nobody insisted I talk about anything in particular; they both independently suggested the Jane Fonda spitting incident, but when I said no, we just moved on to find other topics. Zero coercion.
    – It’d be easy to pretend this is a simple situation: Bad MSM, good bloggers. And, frankly, at this point I do believe that the mainstream media’s values have been corrupted. So, taken as generalizations, yeah, sure bad MSM, good bloggers. But specific real cases are always complex. We have producers who are terrific people, and who may wish they could do more news and less crap. We have bloggers out to promote the blogosphere but in an environment where we don’t get to set the rules. We have the usual melange of human motivation, as Jeff so honestly declares. It’s complex, and simple reactions such as “Fuck ’em, I quit” can be betrayals of the complex nature of the situation. I had the flu and was presented with an egregious case of media pandering — the Jane Fonda spit fest — so I blurted out that this wasn’t for me. I reduced a complex situation to a binary choice. I’m not sorry, but I’m not proud either.

  • The fact is, Jeff, it’s been two years or so since blogs started getting interesting as a “big” thing (As opposed to a freaky weirdo hobby nobody had heard of except a few freaks like you, Dave W, Nick Denton, me etc) and it’s still like the the movie business i.e. nobody knows anything.
    If we knew the future, we’d already be there. And the past, well, it takes about a week in the ‘sphere for it to be forgotten. It’s a very present tense kinda thing.
    I guess my point is, a lot of people look to you (quite rightly) for answers. But there aren’t any.
    Actually, I am wrong. There’s one. Get yourself an account with MT, Typepad, WordPress, Livejournal, Blogger etc and start typing.

  • David:
    I did not address the important issue you raised in your post — really, at the start of Jay Rosen’s socratic badgering of you in the comments there — and again in your response here. And it’s the real issue, of course:
    Have “mainstream media’s values been corrupted”?
    Well, uh, duh, yeah. See Michael Jackson, OJ, cable-news yellfests, witchhunts, local TV pyromania… everybody has a catalogue.
    And you are not of mainstream media.
    So correct me if I’m wrong, but here’s what happened: Touched by those MSM cooties and fearing contamination, you recoiled and shouted inside: “Let me out! Let me out! Before it’s too late!”
    I, on the other hand, corrupted and cootied since age 17, recognize and live with those issues but find small joy in small change: “Bloggers on TV. Cool!”
    The danger for a few of the commenters on your post — not you, and you specifically pushed this notion aside — is that they would reject mainstream media out of hand and wholly, throwing out the value of journalism along with its present-day folly.
    The danger for me is that I ignore and add to the corruption: I answer the question, “What’s the blogosphere saying about Michael Jackson, Jeff?” and I take small — but still too much — pride in quoting you, as it so happens, asking: “How do the journalists there — people who got into the business because they are committed to an informed democracy — feel about this outlandish pandering?” Oh, I asked the question. I even told the folks in little boxes on the screen with me that you were talking about us. But I didn’t answer your question.
    So that’s the danger: corruption and cooties extend into our new and virginal not-a-medium-and-we-still-don’t-know-what-to-call-what-ever-it-is: Bloggers, too, end up exhibiting the values of Michael-Jacksoned mainstream media. Let us out! Before it’s too late!
    But, of course, as you well recognize, there is also an opportunity: Bridging the gap, the separation (Jay Rosen’s word), that has grown between the press and the public it serves. I believe blogs are the agent of that change, the bridge that can bring the press back to its public. And I believe they can do that best when they are heard. And that’s why I find small joy in the MSNBC segments and CNN segments and Business Week cover story: Citizens speak. For only 90 seconds, perhaps. On an often-odd list of topics that MSM still picks and agendas it still sets. With all the odd hoo-ha of TV and slick publishing. But in still small voices, they speak. And that’s good.
    But let me make clear who wins in that exchange:
    Blogs don’t need mainstream media.
    Mainstream media needs blogs.

  • there is also an opportunity: Bridging the gap, the separation (Jay Rosen’s word), that has grown between the press and the public it serves. I believe blogs are the agent of that change, the bridge that can bring the press back to its public. And I believe they can do that best when they are heard.
    I think that was well said, Jeff.
    I think it’s all the more reason to stress that it’s your responsibility, as one of ‘the bloggers who get to be on TV’ to set the MSM straight when they ask you to comment on a story that serves to deepen the gap and destroy the bridge.
    I perfectly understand David’s discomfort with being asked to discriminate among bloggers based upon his perception of their ideology…especially when it was involving the “spitting on Jane” story. My own values would have lead me to feel the same way. The whole assignment reeks of cheap controversy and serves to divide and confuse Americans who are tuning in.
    It seems that the MSM is assigning a deliberately warped value to the blogosphere. The MSM-viewing public is only going to see the blogosphere as an extension of MSM because of the way MSM is using you and others who comment on the blogoshere (in such a limited capacity).
    As you have said, MSM does need the blogosphere, Jeff. I think it would be courageous of you and other bloggers to remember the gap you are bridging and demand, from MSM, a better, more full understanding and analysis of the complete scope of citizen-opinion out here.
    We are so much more than ‘spitting on Jane’ – we do so much more than sit and stare, mouths agape, at the Micheal Jackson trial. We never cared much for sharks and Gary Condit, either.
    You’re doing a good job, Jeff, and I can see that you enjoy what you’re doing. I guess what I would hope is that you would convey to MSM the need for respect for the fullness of the scope of opinion and topics discussed on the blogs. It’s the only way MSM will start to get respect in return.
    We do need each other.

  • I agree Jude. I did the Coast to Coast segment last night and after 4 times on the show decided to put some thoughts down on the screen. My take? Despite the fact that American Idol nearly got involved, I find the experiment at C2C to be an interesting one even though I have some reservations. My series starts at