We, The Blogosphere (An Open Source Letter to President Obama)

President Obama openly insulted blogosphere denizens while discussing a plan to "rescue" the traditional news industry. We had a few thoughts.

Dear President Obama,

We, the blogosphere, feel that in general, it's rather irritating that U.S. Presidents seem fond of generalizing, generally, when talking about matters in general, matters that you generally know nothing about. Like your recent comments to newspaper journalists about the problems facing the traditional print media.

You said, "I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding." Next time, may we suggest to your speechwriters that they conclude comments like this with a resounding “Kids, get off my lawn.”

We know the Presidency ages a guy and each day must seem like a year, but can you remember back when people thought you were cool? The basketball-playing, BlackBerry-addicted dude? The first social media President? The guy who invited—and called on—bloggers from Huffington Post at televised press conferences? We think it was about six months ago, but we can’t remember either. Now you’re like the MySpace of presidents.

You’re right that it would be truly terrible if all news moved in the direction of blogs: Fast, constantly updated, and featuring distinctive voices and engaged users who advance the conversation and help make corrections when errors occur. And you know those underlined words in a different color on the Web pages your staff prints out for you? They’re called “links.” We only wish they offered hidden pointers for where you can play golf. (Your recent embrace of the game is yet another sign that you’re not as cool as we once thought.) Alas, they merely provide context to whatever we’re writing about.

But let’s get back to generalizing about newspapers. They are all fabulous institutions, aren't they? They never get things wrongly out of context, lie, deliberately obscure the truth or engage in scurrilous un-fact-checked rumor-mongering? Nope. They're wonderful mouthpieces of sanity, from the government to its people. Those well-reported "Weapons of Mass Destruction" stories all turned out to be perfectly true, of course.

The Internet did come as a bit of a shock to the old newspapers, kind of the way investment bankers were shocked to learn that housing prices weren’t going to go up forever. Oh, and the way U.S. auto makers were shocked to learn that people don’t much care for cars that get 12 mpg when gas is $4 a gallon. But one can't, in general, expect rapid acceptance of new, shiny things from old people. Ever take an iPhone into an assisted living center? It’s like you’re Tron or something.

[via ToledoBlade]

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16 Comments

  • Bands Bands

    What's required is a successful merger of the old and the new, a way to buttress opinion with fact and pay for the acquisition of facts, a way that builds credibility over time, and a way that retains the gestalt nature of a credible news organization that consists of many personalities engaged in all facets of news gathering and production.
    Bands

  • Bands Bands

    Nowhere in this do I read that Obama wants to DO AWAY WITH social media; rather, he comments of his concern. And he has a good concern. Perhaps you should peruse a few blogs yourself to find what TRUTH really is. And good luck with that.
    Bands

  • Thomas Flanagan

    We will rely on blogs so long a newspapers fail to focus on our concerns and speak with our voices. Fix the newspapers. Leave the blogs alone. You will know when you have fized the newspapers because the blogs will seem less of a concern to you.

  • Pan Osiris

    Mr Obama has a habit of dismissing and demeaning progressive voices and causes in spite of having run his campaign as an alleged progressive. This middle of the road Chicago pol has entered the White House and shed his skin to reveal another DLC Democrat in the mould of Bill Clinton, albeit lacking Bills impromptu oratory skills-set. The young President is a social conservative who talks about his god more often that W did and who shuns genuine action on any of the issues about which he assured we progressives he would direct his energies. This insult to the blogosphere is just another piece of evidence that old Joe Biden, young Cory Booker, or even, yes, dear Hillary would be a more reliable executive to move forward with the changes for which we worked and voted. Shame on Barack for his inaction and every ill wind he blows in the direction of the progressive cause. As I said during the primary race in '08, "We've had 220 years of motherf**ers; it's time for a mother."

  • Bill Ingle

    President Obama: "I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding."

    The "serious fact-checking" Obama mentions is not the same as providing a link to _someone else's_ fact checking, while the vast majority of blog sites _do indeed_ reflect opinion or comment, the equivalent of an editorial.

    Comments -- the equivalent of the old and non-interactive "Letters to the Editor" section of a printed newspaper -- are part of many blog sites. Here in these comments, for example, the President is described as a "Marxist fraud." This is one person's opinion, not fact.

    The ability to provide links is of course very useful but someone, somewhere, must engage in the old fashioned fact checking the President mentions, and this requires resources, training, and money.

    What's required is a successful merger of the old and the new, a way to buttress opinion with fact and pay for the acquisition of facts, a way that builds credibility over time, and a way that retains the gestalt nature of a credible news organization that consists of many personalities engaged in all facets of news gathering and production.

    Coming up with this is not an insurmountable challenge; an effective hybrid creature will necessarily have a much more fluid (and flatter, decentralized) structure, being much more spontaneous. It will provide links to relevant sites but it will also find ways to retain positive elements of an old fashioned news organization, including credibility (this still exists, despite the way far too many news outlets never bothered to closely examine false claims made by the last administration) and the effective synergy of seasoned teams working together, and also provide the required resources, not the least being payment to all involved. Needless to say, a starving blog writer isn't likely to be any more effective at delivering the news than a newspaper or television operation on the edge of bankruptcy.

    Certainly opinions, perspectives, and subjects that might never appear in older, traditional publications can reach the attention of millions of people, instantly, thanks to blogs, but are these necessarily any more trustworthy than that which is featured in publications that serve primarily to support financial and political interests, if not their own financial interests?

    Give it time. Newspapers have been around for centuries; blog sites and the web have existed for but a tiny fraction of that time.

    Bill I.

  • Tyler Adams

    Wow, I'm genuinely surprised by some of these comments. Whether you agree or disagree with President Obama's opinion (or Kit's), his statement could be viewed by many as disparaging to the blogosphere. President Obama should know better than to make statements such as this, and he does know better. Why needlessly risk alienating a group of people? He could have gotten the same message across without bringing up what he believes to be the futility of blogs as a relevant form of media. Why not frame the argument to simply focus on the importance of traditional print media?

  • Mr. Lucas Brice

    The truth is that Obama has the media in his pocket. He can count on them to be the de facto propaganda arms of the government. But bloggers are loose cannons who are free to shout the truth from the rooftops, and that poses a threat to Obama, who wants to control everything: banks, energy, corporations, and the news media.

    To Kit Eaton, who used to think Obama was cool: You, like everyone else who voted for this Marxist fraud, were duped.

  • Kit Eaton

    @Everyone. Interesting responses, chaps. Interesting. Keep the debate going!
    @MJ. Hello! Nice to talk with you, via this wonderful blog medium. Isn't there a saying somewhere that when one descends to making insults, one loses the argument? I might pop that in my iPhone and smoke it--there's even a handy app for that! http://itunes.apple.com/WebObj...

  • Sean Lisowski

    I believe the point the president was trying to make is that now, since everyone has a voice - and everyone has an agenda, nontraditional media has had more success polarizing people than uniting them. The same can be said for certain cable news channels - or even mainstream news channels for that matter. You would think the blogosphere which you are defending would help people find common ground - but frankly it hasn't.

  • Bill Ingle

    In journalism "Comment is free but facts are sacred" is as true now as it was in 1921, and applies to both printed newspapers and Internet spaces.

    (The full text of C.P. Scott's essay, published on the occasion of the centenary of The Manchester Guardian and in which the above phrase is found can be accessed here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/comm... .)

    Present Obama states simple present realities in an inoffensive way; Kit attempts to turn these remarks into part of a very negative "us vs. them" diatribe. Kit is clearly in need of some serious reflection.

    Print journalism is definitely confronted with serious business challenges while it's also true that a good number of formerly responsible news organizations have allowed the profit motive to overwhelm their mission -- including the parroting of government propaganda (Did they fear they would lose revenue and readers if they did not? If so, this is no excuse whatsoever) but this isn't an entirely new development, either.

    To an extent, readers share responsibility for these developments when they choose to pay for news that is seriously tainted.

    Changes in the business environment are of course accelerated by technological developments -- the two can't be separated -- but yielding to an infantile desire to turn this into a divisive contest no one can win (least of all the readers) is a very poor way to proceed.

    How many blog writers have the time, resources, training, and direction to comply with Scott's idealistic dictum?

    How many news organization are sufficiently motivated to successfully respond to today's challenges and restraints?

    Is there any reason for people not to attempt to come up with powerful and creative solutions that answer all concerns and merge the old fashioned world of printed newspapers with the interactive realities of the Internet?

    Doing so is quite different from painting a false blogosphere versus newspaper dicotomy; all that serves to do is call attention to itself and add to a useless clamor.

    Bill I.

  • Analyst Mike

    Whether based on truth or not, the government's fear of the blogosphere is that it allows the spread of opinions, like an uncontrolled virus. Up until recent years, the government has been able to present their opinion as that of the nation. And thus justifying their actions as being in the best interest of everyone. How will they control a free thinking populous that isn't limited to the sanctioned delivery of traditional media?

  • Mary Kay Thompson

    And therein lies the problem... you voted for a president because you thought he was "Cool." Pretty deep thinking there...

  • MJ Hamilton

    I, a member of the blogosphere, feel that in general, it's rather irritating that you, a obviously young and unwise soul, seem fond of generalizing, generally, when talking about matters in general, matters that you generally know nothing about. Like your recent comments to President Barack Obama about the problems facing the traditional print media.

    Obama said, "I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding."

    Can you, youngun, disagree? Next time, may I suggest you accept what is...REALITY.

    We know you have much growing to do and much wisdom to gain and you can follow in the footsteps of a "aged man" who knows a heck of a lot more than you do. Put that in your iPhone and smoke it.

    Nowhere in this do I read that Obama wants to DO AWAY WITH social media; rather, he comments of his concern. And he has a good concern. Perhaps you should peruse a few blogs yourself to find what TRUTH really is. And good luck with that.

    Don't get me wrong; I love blogs. This doesn't equate to truth. Neither does traditional media.

    What you perceive, your observations, feelings, interpretations, are all your truth. Your truth is important. Yet it is not The Truth.

    A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.

    The belief that there is only one truth, and that oneself is in possession of it, is the root of all evil in the world.

    You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.

    False history gets made all day, any day,the truth of the new is never on the news.

    Dittoheads personified.

  • John Weller

    Great Comments, I think Hugo Chavez explained how controlling the media benefits the governments efforts

  • MLR MLR

    Are you hoping that by using the anchor text "deliberately obscure the truth" people will just go with it and grab their pitch forks? When you actually go to the article it becomes clear that NYT and Wikipedia withheld information which led to SAVING A MANS LIFE.

    Are you saying that you would have been in the moral right and blogged about that story... thus leading to the mans potential death?

    Regardless, you can link to as many sources as you want where traditional media may not have fact checked 100%. I guarantee you I can link to 100x more sources in the blogosphere. So what's the difference? Traditional media is held accountable to *some* of their nonfactual information, bloggers often are not.

    Just throwing the other side out there. I'm a blogger who does not endorse this letter. Traditional media has it's place.

  • Tom Cryer

    I'm an old guy and newspapers lost me a long time ago. News when you want it - The Internet!