By: Mark Glennon*
Michael Ferro is the Chairman and largest shareholder of Tribune Publishing, owner of the Chicago Tribune. This week, he said:
I now understand how important it is to have real journalism in the world and we’re starting here with our properties around the country. Bloggers can’t be the ones deciding public opinion, deciding presidential races.
As for the first part of his comment, let’s just say it’s good he “now” understands the importance, whatever that indicates.
But as for the rest, there’s evidently much he doesn’t understand:
• Journalists aren’t the anointed. They have no more standing than you or me to “decide public opinion.” The bulk of conventional journalism should just be reporting facts. Good editorials add value with informed opinion, but those opinions should be contested and decide nothing.
• Some blogs drive huge amounts of traffic to traditional media like the Tribune, especially those that keep thumbnails short to respect ownership of the stories they link to (as we do). The Washington post gets 15% of its traffic from The Drudge Report, of all places. Some of the best are simple curations of links, like Real Clear. Regular media struggling for readership should wise up about who sends them traffic — and why.
• Bloggers and nontraditional journalists are filling the void opened as traditional journalism shrinks because of the difficulty of finding a workable revenue model. In recent months alone, two of Chicago’s biggest stories weren’t found by media regulars — the Laquan McDonald video and contract rigging by Barbara Byrd-Bennett at CPS. The first was broken by an independent journalist and the second by an at-home mom writing for a blog.
• In Illinois, state and local fiscal crises are the paramount issues of our time, and conventional media coverage of them stinks, as we’ve been documenting here. It’s handled by political reporters who don’t understand finance, pensions and the rest. The only bright spots are the Tribune’s editorials (but not its reporting) and the Sun-Times’ reporting on Chicago (but not its editorials). The only regular sources of detailed, quality financial research are nontraditional media — chiefly, Illinois Policy and Truth in Accounting.
• Bloggers police the media. Somebody needs to, especially in Illinois, where chummy reporters rarely go after one another.
Blogging has democratized and accelerated the flow of information and analysis. Anybody can blog — yes, anybody, as our critics here would probably quip. So be it. They have other favorite sources and that’s as it should be — unconstrained by the pre-internet oligopoly of establishment pooh-bas. A competitive marketplace of ideas now thrives thanks to the web and blogs, the value of which surpasses even Gutenberg’s press.
We’re not going back to the old ways. Having a tech background, Ferro, especially, should know that already.
*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints. Opinions expressed are his own.