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Okay, this is going to hurt....

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I've been out of the game for quite a while and only caught up with the elaborate debate that has been going on about the decision by blogger extraordinare Policy Frog to contribute to radio commentators on our own CJOB.

I know that wading into a debate about the blowback that comes when an alternative media voice dabbles in mainstream media can be a dangerous game, I'll offer the following admissions:

  • I'm a corporate hack, masquerading as a blogger infrequently;
  • I have no credibility as a blogger, because I don't understand the alternative media;
  • many (some?) in the alternative media are praying for the day when newspapers disappear entirely, forcing people like me to go out and get real jobs;
  • Even considering all that, I actually like writing the Sausage Factory, even if it's not a blog and I'm a moron.

I don't want to deny anyone the opportunity to add to my list of shortcomings. I'm proud to say the comments section of this not-really-a-blog-but-bloglike entry is ALWAYS OPEN. For better or worse.

All that having been said, I have trouble trying to understand all of the reasons why PF was villified. According to the extraordinary debate that ensued on his blog after he admitted what he was doing, according to what I read, PF was a shill, a sell-out, a coward and pathetic. As a result of this decision to dip his toe in the mainstream pond, he no longer has intregrity, credibility or authority in his blogging life.


We've seen this before; when Robert Galston of Rise and Sprawl  fame started writing a column for the Free Press, he went from hot-young-blogger to corporate shill in a nanosecond. I didn't like it then, and I'm not fond of seeing a thoughtful commentator like Policy Frog getting the same treatment now. So, in no particular order, here are some observations on the topic by an infrequently blogging, corporate hack who is living on borrowed time.

Credibility and integrity, even in the alternative media, are achieved through the quality of the information you produce. If you're making good points, breaking some news, and providing content that enough people want to read, then you're credible, relevant and, one might argue, able to display some integrity. PF's integrity hasn't been eradicated by his decision to do OB; his anonymity has been eradicated, and that is a different issue.

Although I don't like it that much, I do recognize why some bloggers remain anonymous. Or, even if they are known by some in the blogging world, they maintain pseudonymity. Blogging can complicate our day jobs, and anonymity or pseudonymity can be quite liberating. Heck, we've used anonymous sources in my line of work for years and I would argue that for the most part, it does not affect the credibility or integrity of the news reporting. There are exceptions to this rule (anyone see season five of The Wire??) but it can be an effective way of getting to information that otherwise would go unpublished.

So, what is it about a blogger dabbling in mainstream media that turns so many cranks? Is it because some bloggers who get MSM gigs get paid? Is it because they are abandoning a new medium for a tired, old medium? Is it because once they see the plush offices, the fat paycheques and the morally ambiguous professional standards, they lose touch with 'the truth?' I guess what I want to know is - how do you qualify as a charter member of the alternative media.

If the label is limited to those who toil anonymously in new media and do it for free, then we might have to review the qualifications of some of the opinion leaders of the alternative media. And you know who you are.

I suspect the alternative media label relates more to the KIND of content you are producing. The watchdogs of the MSM, politicians and the famous fall into this category; they write anonymously about topics that are either not vogue for the MSM or, if you believe what you read on the blogosphere, that we're afraid to tackle. And they offer regular criticism of content in the MSM. Fair enough.

This is the ONE thing that separates MSM and alternative media - the MSM does not spend a lot of time critiquing the work of other MSM. IMHO, this is because we generally respect the fact that everyone gets to have his/her say in the flow of news. Bloggers choose to believe this is honor among thieves, a contract to overlook each other's shortcomings. I disagree, but I respect the right of bloggers to make their case.

And this brings me back to my original point about integrity and credibility. If a blogger wants to take on the MSM to point out the follies, errors, biases and proclivities, they will earn credibility by finding real bones to pick on and revealing real issues. If it's just anti-MSM ranting that displays no real knowledge of the way we scramble around each day to put out the news, then ultimately the readers (and that's the commodity we all share in one form or another) will figure it out. End of credibility.

One last point: we in the MSM are often criticized for deciding who has authority and thus a voice in our stories and who doesn't. I believe the allegation is that we are gatekeepers, who ignore the input of ordinary people in favor of the privileged and the powerful. And there's some truth to that, for sure. But doesn't it strike anyone as odd that you have bloggers declaring who IS or IS NOT worthy of being called a member of the alternative media? I would have thought that there was more respect and less appetite for gatekeeping in the blogging community.

I'm looking foward to PF's radio addresses. I have not turned my back on any medium or news outlet in this city. In my car, I have CBC 1 and 2, Kick FM, UMFM and CKUM programmed in on the FM dial. On AM, OB is keyed in. I listen to anyone who wants to talk about politics, policy and current affairs. Anyone. Yes, Marty, that means you. Although I suspect you spend more time reading my columns and blog than I do listening to your show. And that's only because 4 to 5:30 p.m. is usually deadline time for me. I'd listen more, likely, if I could.

Carry on Policy Frog. Keep the faith Robert Galston, may you rise and sprawl for some time to come. And here's hoping Hacks and Wonks gets his own column in a newspaper some day.



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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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