News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Monday, January 8, 2007

Credentialing bloggers or certifying dingbats?

PP at the South Dakota War College has posted that he is in quest for press credentials. Like many bloggers, he seems to think that his politically oriented opinions and his gossip, often mean and snarky gossip, is news.

Unfortunately, the South Dakota media do not present much of a contrast in the content and writing to blogs. But there are journalists in the state who are concerned about thoroughness, accuracy, and who subject their stories to the kind of rigorous evaluation and fact-checking that is fundamental to the profession. Sometimes blogs do come up with some items before the professional media do, but I have still to see many blogs, except one, post a story that contains the verifications, the qualifications, and the searching for facts that is a requisite of professional journalism.

PP argues that the White House gave some bloggers press credentials. That episode is, in fact, a discredit to the White House as it assembled a ministry of propaganda within the White House press room to promote its policies and its people as an antidote to the skeptical and inquiring habits of the professional media. It even paid a talk show host to pimp its policies.

While I, like many people who have been members of the working press, deplore the general performance of the state's media, I would caution against giving partisan bloggers press credentials. They are not trying to determine what is news. They are looking for tidbits that they can contrive into partisan propaganda or lubricants they can use in the masturbation of egos that are desperate to get off.

I wish some of these bloggers who assume their I-am-as-good-and-as -important-as-any-other-journalist would read a text book or two on the subject. If most have breached such a book, they obviously haven't made it past the first paragraph.

But there is another angle to this. Bloggers like to call themselves citizen journalists. So why should they want privileges that are not available to every other citizen? Why should government not be open and information accessible to all people who have legitimate inquiries and concerns? That some bloggers want press credentials is an indication that they consider themselves in a class above the ordinary citizens (although most ordinary citizens write better than they do), and they have a higher political calling.

Press credentials were originally devised as a way to manage the requests for information and to try to get timely and accurate information to the people through the Fourth Estate so that government agencies are not besieged and stymied by hordes of citizens when the information can be more efficiently, promptly, and accurately disseminated.

As for the news standards of blogs, the South Dakota bloggers' handling of the Dan Sutton matter and Sen. Johnson's illness show clearly that they are media in quest of sensation, mean gossip, and whatever else they can filter and contrive to inflict damage on their targets. If they subscribe to any journalistic practice, it is the practice of tabloid journalism.

However, if bloggers are given credentials, I'll be among the first in line. Maybe we can open up a crack in the walls of government and let a few rays of sunshine into those dark halls of political connivery.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States