Will “amateurs” save democracy from the “professionals”?

Notorious publicity hound, author and possible Nazi, Andrew Keen, claims that “amateur” reporting, aka blogging, is ruining news and that only professional journalists (producers, writers, editors, et al.) can be trusted to produce content. I refuse to actually link to Andrew but you can find his book, his blog and the explanation for the “Nazi” reference with a quick google search if you must.

It’s so easy to blow up the whole idea that only professional journalists can be trusted because the slightest analysis shows that the people who can be least trusted to report news accurately and without bias, are in fact journalists. Let me ask you this:

  • “If you have ever been part of a news story, where you’re aware of the facts of the story, has it ever been reported 100% accurately?”

I thought not. I’ve been part of a number of newspaper stories, and been present at tapings of TV news stories about my mother’s business, and every single instance has had factual errors in the resulting story. Every single story. Since I’m not megalomaniacal enough to think that the media has in some way singled me out, I can only assume that the same level of (in)accuracy is part of every story in the professional media.

Not convinced yet? Fair enough. How about the White House Press Corps? We know, because we have videotaped evidence, that President George Bush has repeated lied to the Press Corp, contradicting himself and refusing to acknowledge that what he previously said was something he did say, despite abundant copies of the video being available to all press (and shown on “fake news” The Daily Show). Has the Press Corp ever taken him to task and asked, “with respect sir, you are lying and here’s the visual and audio evidence?” Perhaps they are awed by the Office of the President.

However there is no such excuse for continuing to give Press Secretary Tony Snow any credibility as he also can be demonstrated to have patently lied to the Press Corp repeatedly. In fact the only credible response to anything Mr Snow says at a Press Conference is “Sir, you’ve lied repeatedly to us in the past, we must assume you are lying to us now.”

Why does this happen? Because it’s more important to those so-called professional journalists that they have access to the White House, than doing the job they’re paid to do: report accurately what transpires, including calling lies, lies.

What about the countless times the professional media reports press releases from interested parties without, for one moment, applying any critical thinking to what might be being presented. An example from this week: according to a story by David Pendered – presumably a “professional journalist” at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, reported the story Mayor rips craigslist over child prostitution, without for a moment applying any critical thinking. Absolutely zero evidence was presented (i.e. there is no factual basis for this report other than the Mayor said something); the only example given was a women who states that she is 21 on the site (but the “Mayor thinks she might not be” based on no evidence at all); and even if the ad were not true, Craigslist is a service provider and the fault is with the person placing the ad. The Mayor’s office, and the allegedly professional reporter (who clearly did no research) don’t realize that every Craigslist ad has a built-in reporting mechanism if the post is problematic.

So, instead of the Mayor reporting their concerns to the site, where something could be done, they picked a tame reporter who uncritically gave the Mayor the publicity they wanted, but failed the public and contributed to the recognition that the “professional media” is nothing but, once again, the lackey of the interested party.

This is not an isolated incident – in any given week you could find hundreds of such cases of media reporting that uncritically publishes whatever’s put in front of them. Take reports of “rampant piracy costing the US $12 billion a year” from the “think tank”, the Institute for Policy Innovation. Has any professional journalist examined the underlying assumptions of such a paper? No. Did any of those allegedly professional journalists check the background of the organization and find that it’s funded, mostly, by the RIAA and MPAA or even notice that much help was provided by organizations closely associated with the two-bit cartels? Of course they didn’t! That would require thinking and actually doing their job. Instead, it’s much easier to take the inflammatory headline bait and run with it uncritically.

Want more evidence? Back on August 22nd, ABC News polls asked who won the Democratic debate of the evening before. When Dennis Kucinich came out the winner, they simply changed the poll to give the results they preferred. That’s the “professional media” Andrew Keen thinks we’re supposed to trust because (and for no other reason) than they’re trained professionals.

Give me a break.

Of course, the professional media’s failings aren’t limited to egregious errors and lies, there’s the matter of accuracy of reporting on any technical subject. This week Adobe announced that the next generation of the Flash Player would support Industry Standard MPEG-4 H.264 video, but Associated Press, who apparently have no-one vaguely competent to report on the subject, made the discussion about High Definition video. That’s a small, tiny part of the story (a subject I do know a little about) but basically misses the real story – web video just became a whole lot better quality for small videos as well; we have one industry standard for multiple purposes and Adobe abandoned their proprietary video formats in order to embrace a ISO industry standard.

It’s not just “professional” journalists. Today Morgan Stanley’s Internet analyst Mary Meeker – a person investors are supposed to be able to rely on for accurate information – reported that YouTube’s new overlay advertising would bring in $4.8 Billion in the next year. Only problem was, she totally misunderstood that CMP is “Impressions per thousand” not impressions. She was out by only a factor of 1000! No wonder I haven’t believed an analysts prediction in more than five years. Guess compounded by bad math!

My final example is the way those “professional journalists” fell all over themselves to report Paris Hilton’s into-jail-out-of-jail-back-to-jail story. At best it was a footnote on life at that time, when there were thousands of more important stories, and yet news hour after news hour after roll of newsprint later all we got was wall-to-wall Hilton. So much so that one MSNBC on-air presenter had enough and refused to read the story placed in front of her.

Mr Keen (who will probably see this because for sure he has vanity searches at Technorati and Google Blog Search) couldn’t have chosen a worse example than attempting to defend “professional journalists”. To my mind, I’ve never actually run into one in the mainstream media.

What we need is a Fifth Estate, because the Fourth Estate has failed us. The Founding Fathers of this country had an experience of the press that was comprised of hundreds of independent voices, with a diversity of opinion. They did not expect it to degrade to just a few voices amplified in the echo chamber of incompetence, irrelevance and inaccuracy that is the mainstream media.

The Fifth Estate must rise up, it’s the only realistic way to keep Democracy alive in this great country.

1 reply on “Will “amateurs” save democracy from the “professionals”?”

Leave a Comment
  1. First, I apologize for yet another comment on your blog. Having said that…

    Never have I read truer words…

    The mainstream media is nothing more than a propoganda tool used by those who have specific agendas in mind (and Im not talking conspiracy theories or anything like that). The whole news system in America is nothing short of garbage. No matter what news channel you flip to you see the exact same tickers with the exact same stories, and if your lucky enough, you can get the same story three times in a row by channel surfing.

    I think Keens comments about the bloggers and internet newsies are spouted off out of fear. The mainstream media is beginning to panic, they realize there is a shift in the perceptions of the nation with rss feeds, mobile phones with internet access, email updates, etc which are slowly inching their way in and replacing the nonsensical ravings of some plastic no nothing going on and on about what brittany did last night, or what the newest teen idol thinks of the latest political news.

    Certainly not what the founders of the country had envisioned.

Comments are closed.
Send a Message