Much gnashing of teeth tonight in Blogspace. Apparently, CNN has asked reporter Kevin Sites to quit blogging from the war zone.
Why? CNN’s not saying. Of course, this is the blog crowd’s prima facie evidence of big media squatting on the Golden Revolution of weblogs. Oh, and while they’re at it, big media’s coverage sucks, too. And Aaron Brown’s an ugly windbag, besides.
Let’s see if we can separate those issues.
As far as Sites’s weblog. There are some thoughtful posts during the runup to war, and some pretty though unremarkable pictures of civilians that could have been taken in The Bronx. But after Tuesday night, the next post was today’s announcing the shutdown.
You think that between Tuesday and Friday, Sites may have been a little busy?
Sites is an employee, and CNN is utterly with its rights to suggest that he should be concentrating on filing to the network rather than his blog. What goes on between Sites and his employer is between them, and none of us jeering from the sidelines can claim to know that dynamic.
Now let’s talk about how coverage sucks. Mitch Ratcliff writes this:
I keep seeing the worst in journalism displayed during this war. I’ve also seen many examples of big media — and new and old — refusing to think and act differently up close and personal. There is an explicit assumption by the people running Web sites that reporters and reports should be the same as they’ve always been. They will talk about the desire to change, but get to the point where actual change is required and they back away fast.
“The worst in journalism”? There is unprecedented access to troops and battle, combined with 21st century communications and imaging technology that puts us squarely in the world of Max Headroom. If pixelated views of jeeps moving through the desert at night don’t turn his crank, it might be worth remembering that he’s seeing live pictures at night from a featureless landscape half a world away. Just now, I saw high-quality nighttime pictures of Baghdad (San Francisco on the Tigris) being blown to hell. Ten years ago, these were light green dots against a slightly darker-green background.
Footage from Vietnam, it’s worth remembering, was never fresher than two days old. It took at least a day to fly the film back to the States, and another day to process and cut it.
Is there a lot we’re not seeing? Of course. But fer chrissakes — it’s a war! It’s going on right now. Stories will be coming out for decades to come. That’s the way journalism and history work. Howard Kurtz writes about this in Saturday’s WAPost:
NBC’s Dana Lewis, who is with the 101st Airborne, said from northern Kuwait that “we know unbelievable amounts of information” but that “you can’t use a lot of it.” Still, he said, “we’ll go back to this two or three months from now and say, ‘This was the original battle plan and this is what really happened to these guys.’ We’ll do a reality check, which I think is valuable.”
The worst in journalism? I’d nominate not the war coverage, but rather the White House press corps, which rolled over the other week and let its belly get scratched by an automaton President.
Actually, I’d say the quality of war reporting is vastly better than recent American history would have given us reason to expect.
Are anchors windbags? Well, yes — and that’s why they get paid the big bucks. It is hellishly hard to stay on camera for hour after hour, where there may not be any actual new news coming in, and not sound like any more of an idiot than is actually neccessary. This is the weakness of the medium: when broadcasting in real time, the clock is your enemy, one way or another.
Here’s where Mitch and I agree:
If doing something radically new requires a form of corporate governance that supports teams of journalists (in the broadest possible sense, including bloggers and participants in events) who never meet face-to-face or have ideas that can co-exist peacefully, then we need to develop that. Or just go ahead and do it the old-fashioned way by paying a few folks upfront to edit what a lot of “freelancers” submit for publication — again, I use the word “publication” in the broadest possible sense. Just be sure that what you produce is different in a fundamental way.
As I said earlier today, the BBC is doing interesting things in this direction. But as Mitch himself acknowledges, coverage by blog is different than coverage by TV or any other medium. It has to be — otherwise, why bother? And there’s that pesky problem of both the publisher and the writer getting paid. I wrote about it last June.
And from a purely practical perspective, it’ll be interesting getting official credentials for all those independent bloggers. It’s a problem that Blogcritics has been wrestling with, more or less unsuccessfully, since it started last year.
[Thanks to J.D. Lasica for getting this debate started.]