Post's Donald Graham Says "Bloggers Are Not the Enemy," Hill Tells Heritage Panel on Journalists and Bloggers
Following are presentations by Ed Morrissey of Captain's Quarters blog, Jim Hill, Managing Editor of The Washington Post Writers Group, and Danny Glover, Managing Editor of National Journal's Technology Daily and Beltway Blogroll blog.
They were speaking as members of the panel hosted July 8 by The Heritage Foundation's Center for Media and Public Policy on: "Are Bloggers and Journalists Allies or Enemies?" The following texts are presented in the order in which the trio spoke. You can also view a video of the panel here.
In the photo above, Matthew Sheffield, left is chatting with Morrissey, right. That's your humble servant looking on in the middle background. This photo is courtesy of Mary Katharine Ham, one of Townhall.com's greatest assets.
My introduction of the three precedes the text of their presentations:
"Good morning, I am Mark Tapscott, Director of The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Media and Public Policy. I want to welcome you to Heritage and tell you how impressed I am that you have braved the soggy, windy remnants of tropical storm Cindy to join us here today.
"Before this day is over, it is estimated that more than 20,000 new blogs will be created. Like most of the rest of the 10 million or so blogs already up on the Internet, the vast majority of the new blogs will be solely devoted to such prosaic issues as why the morning commute was miserable, what the family’s plans are for the weekend and whether little Jimmy or Mary should have been called out at third in yesterday’s little league game.
"But a relatively small slice of those new blogs will be written by people who are seriously interested in the events of the day, who have strong opinions about those events and may even have the means of 'advancing the story' – that is, doing journalism.
"The result is an explosion in just the last three years of new news sources and the creation of the Blogosphere – a machine that has proven itself capable of unseating mighty potentates like Dan Rather and bringing eyewitness reports and video of the horror of a disaster on the other side of the world like the December tsunami in our hands literally within hours of the tragedy.
"Having spent most of my career as a newspaper journalist and more recently as proprietor of one of the more obscure sites of the Blogosphere known as “Tapscott’s Copy Desk,” I have one foot firmly planted in each of these two realms and so I have watched these developments with great interest, as have many of you. But not everybody in the news business has been cheered by these developments.
"Another of the mighty potentates of our day famously referred to bloggers as guys sitting in their living rooms in their pajamas. I think we can safely assume that the cbs vice president who uttered that phrase on Fox News during the Rathergate scandal does not consider bloggers to be journalists.
"That issue has received a great deal of debate and discussion in recent months in the newsrooms of America, as well as in the journalism classrooms and indeed in many forums where public policy issues are routinely debated.
"And that is why we have gathered this august panel for you today, to consider whether bloggers and journalists practice the same craft or are they like Twain’s proverbial lightning and lightning bug – they sound very much like alike but they couldn’t be more different. On the other hand, lightning and lightning bugs both fly through the air so maybe they are more alike than we or they realize.
"Let me tell you briefly about each of our panelists and then we will hear presentations from each of them. Following that, you will be able to ask our panelists as many questions as time permits.
"Our first speaker today is Ed Morrissey, better known to many of you as 'The Captain' of Captain’s Quarters blog. I note from the Truth Laid Bear’s web site today that Ed received more than 25,000 visitors yesterday, making Captains Quarters one of the top 20 most widely read blogs in the blogosphere.
"This is quite remarkable when you consider that Captain's Quarters blog is barely more than a year old. But Ed quickly established himself as one of the blogosphere’s most incisive, well-documented and entertaining sites. And there are more than a few journalists who envy his amazing reporting earlier this year that blew Canadian politics wide open and may yet result in the downfall of the Liberal Party government there.
"Our second speaker is Jim Hill, who some of you may know from his days as one of my colleagues here in the Media Center. Jim has what i believe is the best job in town – Managing Editor of The Washington Post Writers Group he gets to edit George Will, Charles Krauthammer, E.J. Dionne, who is with us here today, and the rest of that fine stable of wordsmiths. He’s been an editorial page poo-bah at The Los Angeles Times, Arizona Republic and The Kansas City Star. I understand that he will be bringing us word directly from on high at the Post.
"Our final speaker today is Danny Glover, who is almost singlehandedly bringing National Journal into the era of the Blogosphere. His main job is Managing Editor of National Joural’s Technology Daily but just a few weeks ago he took on the added opportunities that come with being the guy in charge of National Journal’s Beltway Blogroll.
"With that, it is my great privilege to turn the podium over to Ed Morrissey."
"Thank you for the invitation and the kind introduction. I am honored to speak at the prestigious Heritage Foundation as a guest of my friend, Mark Tapscott, who made the arrangements for this panel discussion. Appearing with Jim Hill of The Washington Post Writers Group and Daniel Glover of the National Journal is not only an honor but an inspiration, as are the guests in attendance today, some of whom are also members of the media corps.
"Many of you know me from my writing as Captain Ed, the nickname I use when writing for my weblog, Captain’s Quarters. I started Captain’s Quarters less than two years ago out of frustration – frustration that came from not having an outlet for my voice and point of view beyond that of the occasional letter to the editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, my local newspaper. When I began blogging, I had less than 10 visits a day during the first few weeks. Seven of those were me, one was my mother, and we still haven’t figured out who that other lonely soul may have been.
"Through a combination of good fortune, timely reactions to current events, some marketing skills, and sheer bloody-mindedness in the face of reality, I built up a steady readership that continues to increase to this day. Although many bloggers had come before me, I found myself fortunate enough to have entered the blogosphere just as it began to catch the attention of American news consumers. The hotly-contested election gave me and thousands of other bloggers an opportunity to compete for the enormous cascade of readers that started looking to the blogosphere to find information that could not easily be found elsewhere.
"In the early days of my blog – which sounds like my 3-year-old granddaughter saying, 'When I was a baby' – my posts entirely consisted of links to stories in the mainstream media and my opinions of what they meant. Some of those essays were media critiques, while others pointed out facts and arguments for political positions or cultural debates.
"While the writing and the content were, I feel, at least as professional as the average newspaper article, I doubt that anyone would consider what I did to be journalism in the common sense of the term. For myself, I considered Captain’s Quarters as a forum for punditry, media criticism, and political debate.
"That began to change when my readership grew to significant numbers in the summer of 2004. As the reach of the blogosphere grew, so did the diversity of our audience. Bloggers found that their readers as well as their fellow bloggers held enormous amounts of information, knowledge that could be organized through our sites and combined into news, independent of the mainstream media. The first example of this came with the CBS report on '60 Minutes Wednesday', when Mary Mapes and CBS used memos supposedly written by a senior officer of the Texas Air National Guard to question George Bush’s service record.
"The first hints that these documents might have been falsified came three hours after CBS posted them onto their website. My friends at Power Line – another more obscure Twin Cities blog – received an e-mail from one of their readers outlining a few issues that he had seen discussed at the popular Free Republic website. Scott Johnson wrote a post called 'The Sixty-First Minute', and shortly afterwards received hundreds of e-mails with many details that undermined the authenticity of the documents.
"Captain’s Quarters had a more peripheral role in that blogswarm, although as a former technical publications expert in the defense industry, I had some insight into the typography and the format issues that arose. Other bloggers hit the streets, looking for more answers. Bill Ardolino at InDC Journal, located right here in town, hired his own document examiner to review the scans CBS posted.
"Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs generated a graphic experiment that showed one of the memos to exactly match a duplicate typed in Microsoft Word using its default settings – an impossibility given the typographical differences between typewriters in the 1970s and computer systems today.
"Power Line’s large readership included many current and former military men and women who sent Scott examples of proper formatting of military documents, as well as data that pointed out historical anachronisms contained within the Killian memos.
"Regardless of one’s belief in the final determination of these memos and the story in which they were used, these bloggers had moved beyond the familiar pundit roles that they had earlier assumed. Through the building of trust with their readership, they had developed sources with information that they applied in generating original and timely articles that delivered fresh information to their general readership.
"In some cases, they stepped outside of the passive role to interview experts, develop evidence, and keep pressure on CBS to respond to the growing concerns over the veracity of their story. We have a word for that activity: journalism.
"My blog has had its moments as a journalistic organ rather than strictly punditry. Earlier this year, I wrote extensively on then-CNN Vice President Eason Jordan and his comments at Davos that accused the American military of deliberate assassinations of journalists in war zones.
"This started a few days after Jordan made these remarks during the World Economic Forum, and had only been briefly mentioned as a Grapevine item on Fox News Channel. I first heard about it through the Hugh Hewitt radio show, and began blogging about it immediately and often, asking my readers to look into it as well.
"I opened an account at Nexis to research the question of whether CNN had ever reported on those allegations. Readers who also did research sent me links to even more instances of Jordan’s allegations. In the end, we compiled a list of evidence that Jordan had habitually made these claims, always in foreign venues, without ever providing any evidence – and CNN had never reported on these conspiracy theories that Jordan espoused.
"In this case, the blogs provided the only journalism for this story for well over a week. In the midst of this controversy, I wrote an article for the Weekly Standard, which highlighted the absolute silence on Jordan and his remarks in the major media outlets. In fact, until Eason Jordan resigned nine days after the controversy broke out into the blogosphere, it had received almost no notice in any of the traditional media.
"Of the major national newspapers, only The Washington Post mentioned it at all, in a Media Notes column by Howard Kurtz that tended to dismiss the controversy as a blogosphere tempest. The New York Times didn’t mention it until the night of Jordan’s resignation, and The Los Angeles Times only mentioned his remarks the day after his resignation. CBS didn’t even report Jordan’s resignation on its website until 48 hours after he quit.
"Again, bloggers had reported unique and relevant information, this time not only separate from the mainstream media but in apparent opposition to it. The information came with specific sourcing, links to the historical record, and persistent calls for one of the largest media organizations in the world – CNN – to authorize the release of the pertinent videotape so that they, too, could perform the journalistic function of informing their consumers of the news. To this day, CNN has refused to ask for the videotape from the World Economic Forum, which said that such a request would likely be honored.
"Which organizations in this example performed journalism – and which ones stonewalled?
"Most recently, Captain’s Quarters created a storm of controversy in Canada based on reporting that I did on a major political scandal north of the border. Canadian politics has long held little interest to Americans, and therefore receives scant coverage from our media. That reflects no bias, simply the natural reaction to their consumer market.
"I was no different. I knew that the Liberal Party had controlled Canadian government for several years, but I had not heard much about the Sponsorship Program and the millions of dollars that had disappeared mysteriously from its coffers before receiving an e-mail from one of my readers, in late March.
"The e-mail started off by asking me to help Canada, an odd proposition for an American blogger. It did not go into specifics but said that an “extremely big” story needed to be told, and needed to be told through the blogosphere. Normally I would have put this in the same category as e-mails from former Nigerian princes that promise millions of dollars if I can get them access to an American bank account – mine, of course – but this had specifically been written to me and had the contact information and identification which, if true, promised something more substantial than mere spam or scam.
"I wrote back, asking for some confirmation of the person’s identity and a better explanation of why Canada needed an American blogger. My source sent me some confirming information and gave me the background on Adscam. In brief, the Sponsorship Program intended on defusing the separatist movement in Quebec by using advertising and sponsorship of cultural events throughout the province to make Quebeckers feel … more Canadian.
"With the Liberals in charge, however, the program quickly turned into a money-laundering scheme with at least two main strategies. First, large payments were made to politically-connected ad agencies, using invoices for work that had never been done, and this money was kicked back in cash to the Liberal Party and its cronies for unknown purposes.
"Secondly, the ad agencies hired a number of Liberal Party activists who did no work on Sponsorship Program contracts, but instead did political work “off the books” and outside the reach of campaign-finance regulations. In return, the agencies involved got millions of dollars in business from the Canadian government.
"Witnesses had given testimony to the public inquiry headed by Justice John Gomery for several weeks. Despite the fact that the inquiry had been public, testimony from three specific witnesses who had upcoming criminal trials was placed under a publication ban. This is similar to a gag order in American courts, except that it only affected the ability of the press to report what was being said in open court.
"Therefore, the political operatives for all of Canada’s political parties could sit in court and hear the testimony. Reporters could do the same. In fact, some media outlets continued to receive closed-circuit video and audio feeds from the Gomery Inquiry during the sessions under the publication ban. The only people that could not have access to the testimony, apparently, were the Canadian taxpayers whose money had been stolen from under their noses.
"After reading some of my essays on the First Amendment and the McCain-Feingold Act, the source felt that Captain’s Quarters would provide a good outlet to publish this testimony in defiance of the ban and allow Canadians to hear exactly how their government had been corrupted.
"At this point, on April 2nd, the first of the three witnesses had testified for two days. The Canadian media reported on the sensational nature of Jean Brault’s testimony but offered no specifics whatsoever. After reviewing the material and judging it to be genuine, I posted a summary of the testimony that evening in an article titled, 'Canada’s Corruption Scandal Breaks Wide Open.'
"At first, the reaction met my expectations. My traffic doubled as others linked to me, such as Instapundit and a handful of Canadian bloggers. The visits picked up speed as NealeNews, the Canadian version of The Drudge Report, headlined my post. However, on Sunday evening, my website came to the attention of CTV, one of the two Canadian networks, who reported that an American blogger had started releasing what appeared to be highly accurate summations of the banned testimony. After that, all hell broke loose.
"My traffic jumped to 10 times its normal rate, then to 20 times, and then my server crashed under the weight of the visits I got. Major media all over Canada reported on the American blogger who either stood for freedom of speech or didn’t respect Canadian law, depending on one’s point of view.
"In four days, after two posts revealing the secret testimony, I received over 1.5 million visits to my blog. My normal traffic then was about 20,000 a day. I received a number of requests for interviews, mostly from Canadian media, which was unfortunate because I had a raging case of laryngitis at the time. I’m afraid that Canada’s first experience with an American blogger might have left them with the impression that Don Corleone had suddenly gone legit.
"The reaction of the Canadian electorate matched the sudden enthusiasm I saw in my traffic reports. Where before the Gomery Inquiry had operated mostly within the confines of Ottawa political circles, the secrecy and surprise revelation of Brault’s testimony sparked wide interest in the scandal. Throughout the country, outrage over the corruption and graft erupted, threatening to topple the Liberal government and force elections. Only recently have the Liberals managed to escape that fate, and only temporarily.
"Again, a blog reported a story which the media did not – in fact, in this case, could not for fear of prosecution. More than once, I heard from reporters assigned to interview me that they wished they could have broken this story themselves, and that they envied my ability to do so without legal liability.
"Does that make bloggers journalists? Not necessarily, but the better question is this: Can bloggers perform journalism? Our track record proves that we can and often do. It isn’t what we do every time we post, or even most of the time we post. Bloggers move between journalist, pundit, critic, self-promoter, and back again, sometimes all within the same day.
"As our own editors and publishers, we have the flexibility to do all of that as we see fit. Our impact in each of these roles depends on the level of trust we have built with our readers, who enable us to fill each role by bringing us information we need. On occasion, that information allows us to report original information that can have tremendous effect on the world around us.
"That’s journalism, no matter what one calls the person delivering it."
Jim Hill is Managing Editor of The Washington Post Writers Group:
"Good morning. It's so good to be back here at the Foundation and sharing this panel with Ed and Daniel. Since Mark contacted me to inquire if I could appear, I've been giving a considerable amount of thought to what we should be talking about here today. And the thing I want to say right off is something the chairman of my company, Donald Graham, told me in a casual
conversation not long ago: "Blogs are not the enemy."
"Indeed, The Washington Post has been among the pioneers in electronic journalism, and on our Web site, washingtonpost.com, one can find all sorts of blogs -- Howard Kurtz's "Media Notes," Joel Achenbach's "Auchenblog," Terry O'Neal's "Talking Points," Mark Maskie's "NFL Insider," to name a few. Tom Boswell even blogged throughout the Washington Nationals'
inaugural ritual of spring training.
"And I note that Mark has been particularly active in encouraging other newspapers to get involved in what is becoming to be known as "citizen journalism," and just recently posted that The New York Times had reported on efforts by the Greensboro News & Observer and the Rocky Mountain News encouraging this trend.
"I would add that the editorial writers at The Dallas Morning News also have a very active blog, and the newspaper business has been watching intently to determine what Michael Kinsley is going to do as he tries to makeover The Los Angeles Times' editorial and opinion pages as more reader-interactive.
"So Big Media get blogging. And, in doing so, we are also setting the parameters for some interesting debates to come. Are bloggers journalists? Do they deserve First Amendment protection? Should they be regulated? And my answers would be: sure, of course, and absolutely not.
"A journalist can be anyone who takes pen to paper (I just realize how antiquated that phrase is in this electronic era) and spreads the news. (Quoting Don Graham again, he called bloggers modern-day Ben Franklins, and I think that is most certainly right).
"The First Amendment applies to all Americans. Nuff said.
"And regulation? The notion itself is preposterous. But here, of course, is where we need to keep our attention focused, for the forces of mischief are already at work trying to do this very thing. A free press must be always vigilant about creeping regulation, and Mark, I hope the Center for Media and Public Policy will continue to track these issues as aggressively as you have pushed Freedom of Information issues. It's not just the right cause, it's the correct cause.
"But now that I've welcomed Captain Ed and the many other bloggers who are trying to check the actions of both government and the media who cover government into our band of journalistic brothers, I just want to spend a little time posing some other questions that frankly, I don't have the answers to.
"And the most important one is: What happens when the lawyers come calling? And they will, trust me.
"Back in the pre-blog days of 1998 when I was doing "James Hill's Weekly" on the Internet, I had a couple of lawyer friends who watched the site to see if I had strayed over the line, particularly on libel issues (fortunately, Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright were public figures, so I never got sued). John Hinderaker, Scott Johnson and Paul Mirengoff at PowerLine are
all lawyers, as is Glen Reynolds at Instapundit, and Ann Althouse at Althouse is a law professor, so they have a measure of protection or at least an inkling of what dangers are out there.
"But blogging has developed so fast, and the waters are still so uncharted, that I fear we may be steaming toward an iceberg, the consequences of which we've just begun to think through. Now, I think that a libel suit of one blogger comes across as pretty much an absurdity. I mean, what would one receive in a judgment -- the blogger's computer, maybe? Yet I don't think it is farfetched to imagine creative lawyers going after bloggers collectively, especially ones that may have linked or quoted extensively from an article or posting deemed to be libelous.
"More worrisome, perhaps, and Ed, you have already had some experience with this, I wonder what would happen if the government started to go after a blogger or bloggers because they had gotten ahold of something the government never wanted to see the light of day: a Pentagon Papers type of case? Or promised a source anonymity and a special prosecutor was
threatening to throw you in jail?
"Where are the protections of the First Amendment now?
"Whenever we at the Washington Post Writers Group have a column that we feel needs to be lawyered, I can call the Post's legal department -- at any time of day -- and get it checked and cleared for publication. But the Post has a philosophy of getting news into the paper, not keeping it out. So our lawyers will go that extra mile to see that we are covered.
"Sadly, that's not the case with many of our nation's newspapers. In their zeal to maximize profit, many of the major chains have ordered their newspapers to eliminate in-house counsel, and that sad fact may explain a lot of the deterioration in newspapers today -- and, consequently, the rise of blogs as sources of news.
But I think it also says that the traditional, mainstream media aren't going to be of much help when and if this nightmare scenario develops. It doesn't seem to be much on the radar of organizations such as the American Society of Newspaper Editors or the National Conference of Editorial Writers, both organizations to which I belong.
"And I think that is a shame, for as old media embraces new media in many ways, we are not doing much as an industry to apply the protecting forces that are necessary for the First Amendment to thrive to these pioneers who
are, quite literally, writing the book on citizen journalism.
"So Mark, I have a simple request, which I hope Ed and Daniel will endorse as well. Why doesn't the Center for Media and Public Policy become a clearinghouse for blogging and the First Amendment? Maybe you can enlist as allies organizations such as Lucy Dalglish's Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which has already done some work on this issue. Maybe we can get a start to making our new friends in the new media feel more welcome, and let them feel that someone is watching out for their interests because, in the end, as it always has been, their interests are our interests as well.
"And with that, I'm going to close off. I'm honored to be here with these gentlemen, and I look forward to any questions you might have."
Danny Glover is Managing Editor of The National Journal's Technology Daily and Editor of NJ's Beltway Blogroll:
"We’re here today to answer the question, 'Are bloggers and journalists friends or enemies?' and the best way to answer that is by listening to what the two camps say about each other.
"Because I’m a journalist, I’ll start with the blogger bashing that unfortunately is all too common among my colleagues. I keep a running list of journalistic rants against bloggers, and it is a nasty list.
"Journalists have called bloggers:
- Jumped-up dunces with PCs
- Barroom loudmouths
- Salivating morons
- And the headless mob
"In February, columnist and editorial cartoonist Ted Rall wrote this: 'Bloggers are ordinary people, many of them uneducated and with nothing interesting to say. They're sitting in their rec rooms, regurgitating and spinning what real journalists have dug up through hard work. They don't have sources, they don't report, and no one holds them accountable when they make mistakes or flat out lie.'
"Bloggers have just as much animosity toward the press. They refer contemptuously to the 'mainstream media' and the 'media establishment.' They claim as trophies the careers of Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd of The New York Times, Dan Rather of CBS News, Eason Jordan of CNN and Jeff Gannon/James Guckert of something called Talon News. And if some of them had their way, Newspaper Guild National President Linda Foley would be looking for a new job now. "That evidence makes it abundantly clear that bloggers and journalists are enemies. They are intellectual adversaries engaged in battle on the front lines of a 21st-century information war.
"Appreciating the depth of that conflict also helps answer another much-debated question: Are bloggers journalists? And the answer is a resounding 'no.' Bloggers are not journalists and clearly have no desire to be. They are grassroots activists who, if inclined at all to quit their day jobs and change careers, are more likely to end up in political or policy circles than journalistic ones.
"But the truth is that most bloggers are just happy being bloggers. Instead of being part of the Fourth Estate, they are part of something new. I call it Estate 4.5 -- a nod both to the profession whose excesses galvanized many bloggers and to the medium they use.
"Bloggers are like inspectors general, the independent watchdogs of government. Just as IGs are not part of the agencies they oversee, bloggers are neither part of government nor journalism, but they keep a wary and watchful eye on both. And in so doing they provide a valuable check against the arrogance, inadequacies and abuses of all four estates.
"Bloggers like to say that journalism is something you do, not who you are, and they have done some great journalism. I admire their work and have even used it to better my own.
"But just doing journalism doesn't make you a journalist any more than doing first aid makes you a doctor or emergency medical technician. Any more than representing yourself in court makes you a lawyer. Any more than loaning money to a friend makes you a banker. Journalism is a profession; blogging is not.
"On the flip side, journalists are not bloggers, either. I have blogged about religion from Russia and adoption from Guatemala, and I just started Beltway Blogroll, a column in blog format that is focused on blogs. But I am a journalist, not a blogger.
"Like it or not, we journalists are part of the 'establishment,' one of the four estates. No matter how hard we may try, we simply can't gain the perspective of bloggers who are not part of our club. Bloggers bring fresh insight, unyielding passion and a whole lot of sass to the public sphere, and they answer to no one but themselves.
"Bloggers are not part of the journalistic-corporate complex that controls information from ivory towers; they are the militiamen of the information revolution. They are, as Jay Rosen of PressThink says, the Court of Appeal in the State of Supreme News Judgment.
"Bloggers are not journalists because they 'think outside the box,' and we don't. I once had a supervisor who told me repeatedly to think outside the box. When I asked him to explain what he meant, he couldn't. I was so aggravated by the experience that when I left that job, I started a newspaper column called 'Inside the Box.'
"Thanks to bloggers who have hurled cyber rocks upside my head over the past few years, I'm at least aware that life does exist outside the box now. But inside the box is where I remain -- and all of my journalistic brethren are right there with me.
"I strongly advocate that we journalists adopt the technology of bloggers to enhance our editorial products. But I also appreciate that we are not and never will be bloggers. Try as we might to escape our past, we can't help but see the world through green-tinted eyeshades.
"The bottom line: Journalists and bloggers are entirely different creatures occupying the same universe the Constitution calls 'the press,' and they are adversaries. But journalists, bloggers, the government and 'we, the people,' have benefited greatly from that adversarial relationship -- and hopefully we will continue to do so.
"Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine said it best when he put it this way recently: 'Journalism is institutional, impersonal, and dispassionate; blogs are human, personal, and passionate. ... At the end of the day, I don't want to see blogs turn into an institution, or try to, for then they wouldn't be blogs anymore.'”