From Tom Paine to Blogs and Beyond – Doug Wilcox

According to the author of “From Tom Paine to Blogs and Beyond,” journalism has played a critical political role in this country from the very beginning. It doesn’t sound as though journalism in revolutionary times bears much resemblance to the modern news-and-entertainment industry, however. Journalists intentionally biased their message with their own thoughts in those days, or used their printed mouthpiece to disseminate a political perspective. In that way, the early journalists were more like modern bloggers than modern journalists.

Thomas Paine, apparently, wrote his pamphlets in the same spirit as modern-day bloggers, too, which would seem to place modern bloggers, all 60 million of them worldwide, in very good company. That is the critical difference between Tom Paine, or at least Paine’s time, and today’s mass of communication: can there be a revolutionary leader when there’s this much writing going on?

The article goes on to highlight the contribution of the muckrakers, independent journalists such as Edward R. Murrow, and the few larger media corporations that have been able to remain independent, such as the New York Times. Those days aren’t gone completely, but it is definitely true that commercial considerations rule the newsroom now, and in some instances, such as with Fox News, the pretention of unbiased coverage is very dubious.

This is the backdrop against which online, or open source, news blogs have come into existence. I’m completely pro-blogs, but I am also shocked that we’re now looking at 60 million of them. With those kinds of numbers, how do you start to find anything useful? It’s a problem Paine didn’t really face. As long as this number of people are emboldened to hold forth, there will be so much static and random noise online that we’ll still probably end up with something like mainstream news as a handful of prominent and popular blogs start to stand out. It isn’t ultimately that different from any other form of press.

It is interesting to note how blogs contribute during times of failure on the part of the mainstream press. September 11th provided a uniquely cathartic episode for most people in this country, and it proved difficult to make sense of those events, certainly for me. I missed it personally, but this article mentions the role of NYC resident’s blogs in the days after the attacks. Many wrote of their personal experience, to communicate that they were alright, or to gather in more depth information that the mainstream press hadn’t provided. It’s a powerful illustration of how, in times of crisis, blogs have a unique role to play, so long as you can find what you’re looking for.

Role of the Internet in National and Local News Media Use

This somewhat dry article discusses how people, who perceive their primary news source to be television, actually receive quite a lot of their news from online news sources, at least in a supplemental capacity. They may see a quick news byte on the television, which on today’s cable news networks is usually extremely brief, and then go research the story in more detail online. This study proposes that online news site usage in pursuit of further information than is available on television accentuates the likelihood that the user will seek information from all sources. Also, the study hypothesizes that most online news is more comparable to national news than local news.

I don’t really watch news on television, so in that regard I’m probably atypical and would fall outside the bounds of this study. I do read news online, but even then I’m more interested in local news. I’ll scan the national headlines, but on reflection it’s the local stories that I actually read. I get my news from the Seattle Times online, Seattle PI online, Seattle Weekly online and the Stranger online. Sometimes, if I’m really interested in a topic, such as the route of Sound Transit through my neighborhood, I’ll scour the local press for any information. I now know that there are over 20 local neighborhood oriented journals, websites or action oriented neighbor coalitions within my immediate area. In the case of Sound Transit, several of us were united in our interest – our houses would have been knocked down with one of the two possible routes through Roosevelt.

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