Contact theSOPAbout theSOPSupport theSOPWritersEditorsManaging Editors
theSOP logo
Published:July 19th, 2006 04:35 EST
Big Fat Phony Debates

Big Fat Phony Debates

By Djelloul (Del) Marbrook (Editor/Mentor)

A tiresome and largely phony debate about citizen journalists working the blogosphere is making the rounds. Woe, woe, the cry goes up, how can we trust this unvetted news? Oi veh, how can we survive in an information world without gatekeepers? The debate, like most debates, misses the point. We simply vet what we read in the blogosphere. Got it, journalists? Vet the stuff, like you`re supposed to vet everything else. Ahem, you are vetting the stuff, aren`t you? You can`t keep it out of cyberspace, but you can pick up the ball where the bloggers leave it. You`re not censors, so what`s your problem? Blogs are full of angles and ideas you didn`t think of. But you don`t just run them up the flagpole. You check them out.

The blogosphere is a huge, living, changing source. It doesn`t change the journalist`s role as gatekeeper. Reporter and editor still must put material under a microscope. Look at it this way. The blogosphere is an immense assignment desk. Its material is raw, but it`s exciting, full of front-page, top-of-the-news potential. Bloggers are playing a significant role in the current conflict between Israel and the Hezbollah.

A young blogger in Beirut shows the garbage piling up, a news angle neglected by the mainstream media. A seventeen-year-old Israeli tells us how it feels to be under bombardment. A woman shares her experiences as an evacuee. All these cyber reports deepen our experience of this human tragedy. The people of the world communicating in this way with each other is a development comparable to the invention of the caravel or the Model T Ford or the airplane.

The immediacy and intimacy of this kind of communication has immense implications for human history. Governments and institutions are being bypassed in favor of instantaneous conversation. The moral of this story is redolent of the moral of lots of stories: they`re not what they seem. The debate about the dangers of citizen journalism is bogus. There is a danger only if journalists drop the ball. So whenever popular debates like this preoccupy society, ask yourselves what`s really going on.

For example, while the middle class is being sold off for its parts, while our earning power falls behind the cost of staying alive, while the pharmaceutical and oil industries rip us off, while we have fewer rights than we had yesterday, our elected suits in Washington are huffing and puffing about flag burning, stem cell research, family values and token tax cuts.

They want us to get all hipped up while our pockets are being picked. So, if we can keep cool in train stations full of pickpockets, why do Washington shell games hypnotize us? What`s going on here is going on in the entertainment and publishing industries. Technology is running far ahead of available business models, and consequently there`s a lot of kvetching being heard about the dangers of changes that are inevitable in any case.

The traditional book publishers want us to fret about all the print-on-demand publishers publishing tripe, as if the traditional publishers haven`t themselves been shoveling tripe on us. And the middlemen who`ve been gorging themselves on artists` lunch would have us believe that the iPod and MP3 are instruments of Satan.

Every day some blogger "sometimes a seasoned journalist, more often an amateur "comes up with an idea or some facts that deserve serious attention. So do we rule the material out because it found its way into cyberspace without the ministrations of a trained reporter and editor, or do we explore and develop the material at hand? Once you ask yourselves these questions the debate stands naked in all its phoniness.