PP recently mentioned the idea of bloggers being “credentialed” as part of the press corps for the South Dakota Legislature. Having covered a couple sessions in Pierre as a reporter, I guarantee you I won’t be getting in line for any press passes for bloggers if it ever occurs. But he isn’t the only one suggesting such acknowledgement of bloggers.
I saw today via BoingBoing that an outfit known as the Media Bloggers Association (MBA) obtained two seats for bloggers out of the 100 set aside for the media in what will certainly be an overflowing courtroom for the the trial of Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff. Here’s what the WaPo reported, including its traditional press shot at bloggers:
The common journalistic practices of verifying facts, seeking both sides of a story and subjecting an article to editing are honored mostly in the breach. Innuendo and rumor ricochet around the Internet as blogs link from one to another, at times making defamatory voices indistinguishable from the many others involved in this experiment of free expression.
Yet, after detailed talks with [MBA's president], officials at the U.S. District Court decided that public awareness of court proceedings could be enhanced by his group’s members, among them documentary filmmaker and journalist Rory O’Connor ( http://www.roryoconnor.org/blog) and freelance writer James Joyner ( http://www.outsidethebeltway.com).
“Bloggers can bring a depth of reporting that some traditional media organizations aren’t able to achieve because of space and time limitations,” said Sheldon Snook, administrative assistant to Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan. Snook added that some bloggers also bring expertise that is welcome in court.
I think Snook’s assessment is very accurate. For example, when I covered the South Dakota Supreme Court while working for UPI and the state and federal trial courts in Rapid City, most of my knowledge came from The Reporter and the Law by Lyle Denniston, the Baltimore Sun reporter who has covered the U.S. Supreme Court for decades. While Denniston’s book is a superb resource for anyone wanting to understand the workings of the justice system, blawgers (law bloggers) undoubtedly can provide insight and expertise that non-lawyer reporters can not.
At the same time, in 99.9 percent of all trials in state or federal court in South Dakota, attendance would pose no problem for bloggers. They would simply go and sit down like any other member of the public (although “live blogging” or using a laptop in the courtroom might face some restrictions depending on noise levels or concern that material not presented at trial might get displayed on the laptop). After all, press rights of access to court proceedings are no greater or less than the public’s.
While MBA should probably be commended for its efforts, part of the WaPo story, if accurate, disturbs me. It says MBA’s president wants to help create “an elite tier of bloggers.” Admittance to this group would result from being credentialed by the MBA after agreeing to adhere to its ethical standards and, thereby, “win them access to news and sporting events, advance copies of new books for review and entrance to advance screening of moves.” There are two problems with this concept.
First much of this happens already without the MBA or any other organization being a credentialing entity. Bloggers attended and covered the national political conventions two years ago. I guarantee bloggers get plenty of press releases and invitations to events from various campaigns and organizations, just like the traditional media. I know of at least one podcaster unaffiliated with any traditional media outlet who is considered part of the authorized media for a minor league hockey team in a large metropolitan area. Blogcritics, to which I contribute, is one of several sites through which bloggers receive advance copies of books, CDs and DVDs and are invited to advance screenings. In fact, there’s dozens of “litblogs” out there the publishing industry recognizes as providing coverage of books and publishing matters. It is not uncommon for me to receive ARCs (advance reading copies) from a variety of national publishing houses.
Second and perhaps more important, I look askance at any effort to proclaim one segment of a group of similarly situated individuals as the “elite,” who are thereby entitled to advantages over the others. Designating an “elite tier” of bloggers strikes me as particularly contrary to one of the best things about blogs — they allow almost anyone a low-cost means of distributing ideas, analysis and criticism worldwide. As such, blogs can help undercut the sad but all too true observation of journalist A.J. Liebling: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”
Undoubtedly, adhering to certain ethical standards behooves bloggers and their readers. But it isn’t just “this experiment of free expression” that is guilty of ethical lapses. Likewise, just how good a job did the WaPo and the rest of the traditional press do “verifying facts [and] seeking both sides of a story” in the run up to the Iraq War? That’s part of the reason why an “elite” stamp from any particular organization should never become the determinant of the legitimacy of any individual or collective blog.
Blogs are democratizing the media [because] the blogosphere is actively watching the mainstream media[.]
Robert Scoble & Shel Israel, Naked Conversations