Paradigm Shift

Newsday’s James Pinkerton adds his take on the significance of the bloggers’ rout of CBS News: “The day CBS News got ‘blogged’ down:”

Sept. 9, 2004, will be remembered as a paradigm-shifting day in media history. That was the day the “blogosphere” took down CBS News.
On Thursday morning, many newspapers followed up on the [CBS News] story. The headline in The New York Times highlighted the hot “news,” broken by CBS: “Documents Suggest Special Treatment for Bush in Guard.” The piece contained not a whiff of concern that the documents might have been faked.
But as the morning papers thought they were done for the day, the “blogosphere” – the motley and unorganized crew of Internet publishers and activists, numbering in the millions – went to work.
That same morning, Powerlineblog.com began posting comments noting that the just-released memos were suspiciously well-spaced and well-proportioned, like documents generated by a computer, not pecked out on a typewriter from more than three decades ago. Others defended the documents, and so a furious debate was launched on the World Wide Web, focusing on such arcane typing terms as “justification” and “kerning.”
The key point here is that nobody was getting paid. The whole back-and-forth exercise was citizen-activism at its best. But along the way, as the claims and counter-claims were evaluated by a “jury” of millions of webheads, a consensus emerged: The documents were fakes.
[W]ithout the documents and the leverage they provided, CBS might not have had a primetime-worthy story at all. But in addition to being too-hungry for a Bush-bashing story and probably reckless – a story that’s “too good to check” is not a good story – CBS never saw the blog-lash coming.
But if the bloggers have power, it’s because they form a robust intellectual marketplace, in which assertions must prove themselves before a jury of cyber-peers. In the words of James T. Smith, of critical-thinker.blogspot.com, “The blogosphere is the people.” To be sure, the marketplace can make mistakes, but on the whole, like democracy itself, the more folks participating, the better the functioning.
But this democratization of the media is bad news – for those who liked it the old way, the top-down way.

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