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An ongoing debate

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Perhaps this entry represents my inability to keep my blogging resolution, or perhaps it's just my contribution to what is becoming a fascinating debate. I'm sure y'all will let me know. But after resolving NOT to comment on every single blog entry that dumps on me or the Free Press, I am motivated to toss another two cents on to the heap.I "limped" back into the blogging game recently with an entry that discussed, among other things, my intention to focus more on interesting stuff, and less on the sniping and verbal abuse that seems to pervade some blogs, particularly those that deal with politics and public policy. I referenced a long-standing mainstream media canon about not commenting on the veracity or tone of other media outlets, which stands in contrast to the predisposition in the blogosphere to spend a lot of time and effort critiquing mainstream media.Two fascinating responses appeared to my born-again manifesto. First, a fellow named Spirted Kenny really let me have it in his entry Mainstream vs. Alternative Media: The Final Battle. In Spirited's opinion (or is that Mr. Kenny?), your humble author is a cop out for not calling out other reporters or columnists for presenting warped truths or manipulating facts. This ability to police other media, Mr. Kenny submits, is a core function of the alternative media, of which blogs are certainly a key pillar. Otherwise, Mr. Kenny writes, we are left with "Status quo. Lets not challenge things, lets not ask questions, lets just keep doing what we have always done and things will be all right. No person, company, or country has every accomplished anything great by just doing the status quo."The debate continued on R.U. Serious Blog in a pointed, if slightly less abusive way. The author in this entry raises some very valid questions about the roles of reporters versus columnists, a differentiation that often (I agree) leads to confusion among readers. The author notes however that what drives the blogosphere's vigilant criticism of mainstream media is less a need to be mean spirited than it is an expression of concern. It's not, the author says, "that they (bloggers) fancy themselves as the alternative media, or the true source of news, teller of tales the MSM won’t tell, but that there doesn’t seem a hell of a lot of Jack Webb style “Just the fact’s ma’am” news reporting out there that let’s the listener/reader/viewer filter the facts through their own filters of life experience."To deal with the last blog entry first, R.U. raises a very good point. The antidote to bias, or manipulation, is to be found (IMHO) in consuming multiple sources of information. I often tell groups who have asked me to speak to them about media and politics that no single news organization has the responsibility to make readers/viewers fully informed. I know there is a lot of marketing hype out there ("The only source for news you'll ever need!!!!") but honestly, what intelligent person could remain in that state by reading one newspaper daily, or watching one television news program? Consuming, and contemplating, multiple versions of a story will immunize the consumer against bad journalism.As for bias, everyone has a set of values and varying experiences through which all events are viewed. I remember recently toying with the idea of a column that lambasted Ottawa city council for ending funding for a clean needle program. Before I could muster the words, colleague Tom Brodbeck at the Winnipeg Sun wrote a piece lauding Ottawa for getting rid of the clean needle program. I decided to move on to another subject, but there was an issue where I believe the words "truth" and "bias" are really meaningless. I felt strongly that Ottawa should have supported the program, Tom disagreed. Perhaps Spirited Kenny could tell me who was being truthful in that debate?While I accept the benefits of an alternative media acting as watchdog for the mainstream media, the most vociferous watchdogs continue to, I believe, miss part of the point when it comes to the mainstream ethic of avoiding criticism of other media. Mr. Kenny believes good journalists should "have the balls" to call out rogue journalists who abuse fact or truth. I would humbly submit that value of good journalism to democracy does not come from being able to shout the loudest. If there is value in journalism, it comes out of the construction of a persuasive argument that moves public opinion AFTER - and this is the most important part - AFTER the public has considered all points of view.The reason we in the ball-less mainstream media don't spend that much time commenting on what other media do is because all news outlets - and alternative news sources for that matter - should have an opportunity to join the debate on any given subject. Solid journalists of any philosophical background or medium should never fear, or loathe, someone of an alternative opinion. Bury them with your own fact and logic, and respect the fact you have to share the stage. I know that is presumptuous when one journalist gets access to a big organization like the Free Press and others don't. But isn't the beauty of the on-line journalism community the fact that technology is helping citizen journalists jump into the game with old-school, bricks-and-mortar news outlets?The warmest of thanks to both R.U. and Spirited Kenny for keeping the debate going.-30-

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.

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