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Two catastrophic computer implosions and a sun-and-fun holiday, and it's been ..... too long since my last entry. Much to say, and so little time to say it. Here goes.If you haven't, you should read a New Yorker article by Eric Alterman entitled The death and life of the American newspaper. It is a fantastic examination of the challenges facing newspapers, the most mainstream of the so-called MSM, and the opportunities that exist for these organizations in the on-line world. Perhaps most interesting of all, however, is the critical analysis of the contrasting roles of and conflicting relationships between MSM and the alternative media, in particular the blogging community.The article correctly points out that dead-tree editions of traditional newspapers are dying; fewer people are spending less and less time reading newspapers and are turning more and more to getting their news (albeit in smaller bites) on line. There is also an acknowledgement that the more progressive MSM outlets are moving more and more of their resources on line, to reflect the new economic reality.However, the article also examines the relationship between the traditional media and the alternative media, and discusses the good, the bad and the truly ugly that results from the oddly symbiotic relationship between the two.While public confidence in the MSM is declining, and consumption of the alternative media is increasing, Alterman and some of the notable people he quotes, including Arianna Huffington, front woman for the Huffington Post, do not believe that traditional media as a source of content is going the way of the dinosaur. In fact, the evolution of on line news and information is really in its infancy. The economics of providing on-line news is still evolving, as are the standards for the collection and publication of information. In this regard, both the MSM and alternative media voices have a lot of work to do, Alterman suggests.Alterman notes that while traditional news outlets and their journalists have lost credibility as elite insiders, there are concerns about whether on-line alternative media personalities have either the credibility or the tools to do the same job, or a better job, in a different form. There are success stories. Alterman correctly fetes the most successful new media journalists, including Joshua Micah Marshall's influential Talking Points Memo site which is widely credited with breaking the story of the firing of federal justice department lawyers who were considered politically inconsistent with the Bush administration's politics. Marshall not only set a new standard for alternative media reporting, but became the first blogger to win a George Polk Award, one of the most important journalism awards in the United States. Marshall has demonstrated that the form of media is not as important as the standard of the work.However, the article argues that most blogging sites neither aspire to Marshall's level of journalism, nor employ the resources to compete at that level. Many bloggers will cite heavily from the New York Times coverage of the war in Iraq, Alterman notes, but bear none of the burden of the $3-million cost of maintaining the Times' bureau in Baghdad.This is not just Alterman's opinion, but a view shared by some of the more notable bloggers. Although "reader driven" news reporting has the potential to expose quality control issues in the mainstream media, including our over reliance on "professional sources" that have lost touch with the sensibilities of the ordinary citizen, most blogging sites are simply not sources of original information. They merely aggregate news from other sources (mostly MSM sources) and offer opinion and criticism. This "parasitic" relationship between blogging sites and MSM, as Alterman describes it, is perhaps the biggest point of conflict between the two communities, and one of the greatest unresolved issues on a go-forward basis.To extrapolate Alterman's analysis locally, you can see the Free Press and other media outlets moving more content on line to better meet the needs of its audience. You can also see a flurry of alternative media bloggers who feed daily off of what we and other MSM outlets produce. As has been discussed in the Sausage Factory before, this is a new dynamic that challenges the age-old tradition in the MSM of not reviewing or criticizing the work of other MSM outlets. Alternative media voices do not see the virtue in that tradition, and we in the MSM need to recognize that the "policing" of the MSM by bloggers is a reflection of the new relationship the media has with its audience thanks to advances in information technology.And really, even if it is parasitic in nature it is not without its virtue. Alternative media critics may not agree, but MSM outlets are actually no strangers to criticism. In large part, however, that criticism has been delivered in more discrete packages. Critical letters to the editor are part of the tradition of any good newspaper, but the longer and more robust criticism which appear in blogs are a new experience for the traditional journalist. As is the exuberant, often profane, commentary from some on-line communities that riff off the bloggers. Although alternative media critics should be concerned about the standard of debate they are encouraging, the ability of our audience to react to and debate the veracity and quality of our work is a reality now, and something no legitimate journalist should fear.(One digression about the alternative media's role as critic: in our stodgy, out-of-date methodology, we in the MSM put a high price on contacting the people we want to sandbag to ask for a comment. Many bloggers do not see the benefit or the value in doing this. Not all bloggers ascribe to this approach; the folks at Comments Closed,, for example, do regularly offer comments, ask questions and seek further explanation about some of the things I write. Good on them.)Alterman did not deal with the issue of anonymity head on, but after reading his article I think there is a strong argument for a more robust debate among self-identified alternative media sources about those alternative media outlets that hide behind pseudonyms. One of the things that make Talking Points Memo a legitimate source of news is that Marshall identifies himself, and his contributors, and their politics. He admits he is a left-leaning commentator and with a liberal bias. He is regularly quoted in a wide range of media outlets. He does not hide behind a clever handle like a computer hacker.The alternative media may not appreciate, nor respect, the creeping influence of the MSM in the on-line news revolution. Certainly, there are still many in the MSM who do not believe the on-line or alternative media is a legitimate source of news. But it appears that for better or worse, and for the foreseeable future, we are going to be partners in evolution of journalism.Let the games begin.-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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