Why the blogosphere is more reliable than the mainstream press

One further note regarding the blogosphere vs the mainstream media. This from this past weekend:

Reuters admits altering Beirut photo

A Reuters photograph of smoke rising from buildings in Beirut has been withdrawn after coming under attack by American web logs. The blogs accused Reuters of distorting the photograph to include more smoke and damage.

The photograph showed two very heavy plumes of black smoke billowing from buildings in Beirut after an Air Force attack on the Lebanese capital. Reuters has since withdrawn the photograph from its website, along a message admitting that the image was distorted, and an apology to editors.

I use this example to illustrate one simple point: you can’t rely on the mainstream media to get the story right, ever. For every criticism you could level at the blogosphere, I could level the same criticism at mainstream news organizations. Can you be sure that what you’re reading was vetted and factchecked, with verified sources? No. Are sources free from bias and agendas? No. Heck, there are entire sites devoted to debunking the errors and lies in mainstream media.

One of the key reasons that people (including me) are so enthusiastic about the emergence of the blogosphere as alternative media is because the mainstream media does suck so bad. There’s nothing you could say about the information on blogs that you can’t also say about CNN.

Now, I didn’t just say “as reliable” in the post title; I said “more reliable”. One of the most often cited peices of advice for anyone seeking “the truth” is to read as many different sources as possible; the average of all the stories on a subject should be something close to that. That’s somewhat of a lie these days though. The majority of the news you read is syndicated from only a few sources (like Reuters); and wave after wave of media consolidation has resulted in a grand total of five media mega-conglomerates controlling everything. On further analysis, there’s not much to differentiate even those five: they all obey the same financial pressures, they all view their jobs as delivering viewers to advertisers rather than delivering news to people. Each article exists as an island, impossible to respond to in any meaningful way.
The blogosphere is different though. It was the blogosphere that uncovered the doctored photo, not the mainstream press. It was the blogosphere that defeated Dan Rather; it’s the blogosphere that corrects, expands on, and explains the things that mainstream media screws up on. Individual bloggers vet each other, playing a never ending game of “gotcha” with each other and the mainstream press. The biggest blogs with tens of thousands of readers have tens of thousands of people fact checking what they read. As such, the most popular posts aren’t just the product of one individual blogger broadcasting to his audience, but rather dozens to thousands of individuals engaging in conversation and making the information better. Network effects define the blogosphere; what bubbles to the top is the product of the wisdom of thousands of individuals, and much closer to the “truth” than what makes it onto, say, Fox News or your average newspaper front page. Individual bloggers screw up – but the blogosphere is always right on the mark. The same can’t be said for professional news organizations.

(The same logic, by the way, is the reason I’d vouch for Wikipedia whenever anyone attacks it’s veracity.)

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