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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Rony Abovitz of Easongate Fame Opens Up for American Journalism Review

Remember Rony Abovitz, the guy who exposed former CNN executive Eason Jordan's conspiratorial comments about the U.S. military targeting journalists in Iraq? The Jordan flap has faded from the headlines but now Abovitz - who kept a bit of a low profile during the furor - is talking and he has a lot to say.

The current issue of the American Journalism Review has a lengthy piece by free lancer Neil Reisner in which Abovitz talks about the Jordan explosion, bloggers, the MSM and much else. Among other things, he thinks some of the coverage in the Blogosphere was "well done," but he also saw elements of " lynch mob."

Here's a sample of Abovitz's comments, as relayed by Reisner:
"The mainstream press 'did not cover it very well, and I'm not sure the bloggers did very well, either,' he says. 'A lot of the mainstream media was late on it, confused; they didn't know what was being done. Some of the blogging was well done, some of the blogging looked like a lynch mob.
"'It's taken on weird aspects because it's like no one who's liberal can talk in public anymore, which isn't the point, or that bloggers are evil scumbags or that the mainstream media is all finished.'"

There are other riches in the AJR, including two excellent columns focusing on the relationship between the MSM and the Blogosphere by Deborah Potter and Barb Palser.

You might be surprised - given AJR's status as a respected voice of traditional journalism - by some of the tough comments from Potter and Palser on what is often the MSM's fearful, deeply flawed response to the Blogosphere.

Potter, a former network news reporter and now executive director of Newslab, offers this gem about the similarities between Rathergate and Easongate:

"Convenient as it may be to blame the new-fangled phenomenon of blogs for Jordan's demise, at least some of the fault belongs to a more old-fashioned problem--network arrogance, the same disease that afflicted CBS News in the case of the "60 Minutes" National Guard story. "Instead of admitting the obvious flaws in that story and promising to investigate further, CBS circled the wagons and stood by it for almost two weeks. In both cases, a quick apology instead of a lame defense might have led to a very different outcome. A little humility could have minimized the damage to the news divisions' reputations and to the individuals who wound up losing their jobs, unfairly or not."

Palser, AJR's new media issues columnist, says the Blogosphere can help the MSM if only the MSM would wake up:
"The corporate media versus organic media and conservative versus liberal divides are gigantic, endemic problems that transcend our recent blog squabbles. But the bloggers could actually improve the MSM, if only journalists would better engage them.
"The worst possible MSM response is to lump all bloggers into the same bucket. Some have better credentials and more 'real' journalism experience than many professional reporters. In fact, some are professional reporters. Some care very much about the integrity of the media and want to fix it, not crush it. Don't demean their interest by saying they have too much time on their hands: If they expose corruption or shoddy reporting once in a while, it's time well spent."

And if the MSM and Blogosphere were to start giving each other more respect, according to Palser, the result would be excellent for everybody but especially for journalists:
"When everybody stops freaking out, the best hope is this: There will be a new dimension to journalism in which the consumer is also a contributor, ombudsman and fact-checker. The profession will become more self-aware, more trusted and more transparent. And we'll all live happily ever after, in our pajamas."

All three of these pieces are well worth spending some quality time with AJR.