Reflections on the blogosphere
Deaglán de Bréadún
The story goes that a Fleet Street reporter was once asked, “What about ethics?” Somewhat nonplussed he replied: “It’s near Sussex.” The moral of the yarn is that ethically-correct behaviour cannot always be expected from journalists.
But at least the serious print media can be relied upon to maintain certain standards. Newspapers such as the one whose website you are presently reading, as well as the New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times and others are known for their objectivity, impartiality and fairness.
Some would say, however, that the whole media universe is being turned upside down by the arrival of the internet and the emergence of the blogosphere. Financial Times editor, Lionel Barber, was ruminating on the topic in last Saturday’s “Life & Arts” section of his newspaper.
Arguably two of the biggest “scoops” of the current US presidential campaign were Barack Obama’s observations about the bitterness of blue-collar voters in Pennsylvania who “cling to guns or religion” or xenophobia and Bill Clinton’s three-minute tirade against a Vanity Fair journalist whom he denounced as a “scumbag”.
You could say these weren’t scoops at all, that Obama’s comments were taken out of context and blown out of proportion by political opponents who sought to portray him as an out-of-touch elitist and that Clinton using unparliamentary language was neither here nor there.
But in the context of a hard-fought election campaign, these two revelations were big news and became weapons in the battle to take over the White House.
Barber points out that both stories emanated from the same source, an amateur “citizen-journalist” from Tennessee called Mayhill Fowler (for further info click here) who contributes a blog to the Huffington Post website.
He goes on to say that she has admitted she only gained access to Obama’s private meeting at a San Francisco mansion because she was a donor to his campaign and that she failed to introduce herself as a reporter when she sweetly asked Bill Clinton what he thought about “that hatchet job somebody did on you in Vanity Fair“.
This is not the way the mainstream serious media normally do business. It was a breach of privacy, especially Clinton’s, and the information was obtained for reporting purposes by someone who did not reveal her connection with the media.
Orthodox media do engage in undercover reporting from time to time but in both of these instances most of them would probably not go incognito. But universal access to the internet means the same standards are not going to be applied to those who have a public platform. Those of who fulminate and moralise about it are increasingly being ignored, or so it would seem. As someone wrote: “The upside of the internet is that everyone can write what they want. The downside of the internet is that everyone can write what they want.”