Monday, January 5, 2009

HOUNDING THE NEWSHOUNDS

HOUNDING THE NEWSHOUNDS: A week and a half ago we highlighted an abuse of power incident at the Pahoa Post Office on the Big Island and this somewhat defensive fellow Damon Tucker who is one of the multitude of bloggers on Hawai`i Island.

We mentioned that “there are reporters who blog or bloggers who report”. But the discussion on blogs over there has morphed and twisted with the coverage of what we suppose is a reporter who blogs,

At the on-line Big Island Chronicle reporter-blogger Tiffany Edwards Hunt lists her past employment “as a reporter for the Laramie Daily Boomerang, the Casper Star Tribune, and the West Hawaii Today.... the late Hawaii Island Journal and the Big Island Weekly”

And so she too jumped all over Tucker’s report of the incident and follow-up describing an incident when the postmaster there apparently called the cops because Damon was taking pictures in the parking lot to show handicapped parking violations. Tucker said that the responding officer gave him grief and laughably claimed he couldn’t take picture in a public place and forced him to delete a picture he took of her upon arrival.

So Tiffany’s training took over and she dutifully got a long statement from the chief of police. But she made one “mistake” in her essay on blogging and reporting.

Despite the fact that Tuck the apparent Duck acts like a reporter, walks like a reporter and quacks like a reporter he somehow has convinced himself that he is not a reporter, even though he regularly refers to his posts as reports and indeed reports on everything in Puna including store break-ins, politics and other assorted “news”.

Hunt was confused as were the more than thirty people who commented on her report. But her confusion was addled further by her apparent quest for “responsible reporting” not just on her own blog but those of others like poor befuddled Damon.

The reality is that both of them typify the prejudices of their respective sides of the reporter-blogger blogger reporter debate coin.

Hunt’s post on the matter says Tucker claims to be not a reporter but that he

describes himself as a “communication specialist” with a weblog. His self-description... ha(s) made me realize he is truly not one of my contemporaries in the press. Still, yet, I ran into this blogger twice this week, both times acting like he was a reporter. I saw him on Monday at the Pohoiki Bypass blessing, where he walked around everybody snapping pictures like he was a reporter like the other folks with cameras. I saw him on Tuesday headed toward Luquin’s in Pahoa, carrying what appeared to be a reporter’s notebook. He was out and about to inquire about the burglaries that occurred in Pahoa Town during the holidays, he said.

In reporter fashion Hunt elaborates and quotes the blogging “experts” such as Jay Rosen, the New York University Journalism faculty chairman and Scott Rosenberg, a reporter at the on-line blogger-friendly Salon magazine, to sort it out.

But there lies Hunt’s self-deception in that, although she discusses the “new vs. old media” argument and the purported reliability/trust deficiencies of what many characterize as the “amateur journalists”, her final plea is for “responsibility” from people like Tucker.

But that very call comes from a member in good standing of the mainstream press who is experimenting with blogging, an endeavor in which most working journalists don’t survive long as the demise of KITV’s Darryl Huff’s “In a Huff” blog and others will attest.

Tucker typifies what we like to call the “reporter when it’s convenient” who gathers information and does actual reporting and then publishes his endeavors but who neither acknowledges his reporter status nor more importantly sees a need to develop the skills that lead to good reporting.

We can’t count how many people have started news and information sites- no matter whether they call them “blogs” or anything else- who seem to rebel at the notion that the act of reporting makes them a reporter resulting in the bestowal of the title..

Hunt intimates that the title is something to be earned with a defense of “responsibility” as a pre-requisite.

In the world of “professional” reporters like Hunt the notion of “reporting with neither fear nor favor” and “following the story wherever it goes” are tempered with some kind of need to protect entities outside the bounds of the reasonable expectations of privacy which is the only thing the law requires... even if the property rights crowd has a hard time with the concept.

This leads to the characteristic paternalism of the press and enables the suppression of news typified by papers like the Garden Island on Kaua`i and Hunt’s former employers West Hawai`i Today- a “Stevens Media” outlet that is infamous, especially on the Big Island for it’s advertiser-protection programs and censorship of news and views.

The term “blog” is problematic not just in it’s relationship to reporting – and whether in fact it has one in many cases- but its very definition.

The blogger who tells of the exploits of his family is a blogger just like those with journalistic skills who deliver news, analysis and opinion and, like this hydrophobic newshound, use a “blogging” piece of software are bloggers.

But surely, although we exercise the usual source scrutiny, verification and investigative skills many would call us irresponsible for our penchant for naming names, not seeking out irrelevant spin and our inclusion of well-defined-as-such speculation in the midst of that reporting.

In the final analysis for all three of us it comes down to a matter of readers’ trust of the reporting, something Hunt stresses. But apparently she see that trust of a news source as emanating from the timidity created by being “responsible” to many competing spinners.

In the mainstream media- a nicety to describe the corporate press- what comes out in print has been reshaped from the original facts. It yields a story format where that newsworthy information goes through some “he said, she said” generator of competing quotes from self-interested “experts”, and is then compressed into blocks of advertiser approved, inoffensive-to-anyone (including the offender being reported upon) material until the news is lost in a final result that is about as uninformative as the rich and powerful could want it.

It is the act of reporting that makes the reporter and the skill of the reporter leads to that “trust” or “reliability”, not some sense that because he or she has some kind of hoity toity title of journalist which is often a sign that the reporter has become lost in the world of self-censorship enough to “move up” the corporate ladder to editor or even publisher.

But neither Tucker- who won’t recognize that carrying a camera and a notebook and putting the content of both before the public makes him a reporter even if he has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the job- nor Hunt- whose trepidatious learning experience carries the baggage of corporate reporting- seems to get at the ultimate democracy of new blogging.

If news outlets report the news as factually as possible without that “fear or favor” the trust that they aren’t reporting made- up fantasies will be established in time. But if you are stuck with the self-censorship of being “responsible” you may as well go back to your corporate cubbyhole because readers can get that anywhere.

Everyone wants to know how the MSM can survive as the corporate takeover tightens it’s vice grip on the modern newsroom and squeezes out the very content people want in their news.

The demise started decades ago- well before the on-line age- with the switch from steak to pabulum Now the reactionary, short-sighted, commercially-oriented decimation of the reporting staffs and the resulting cessation of investigative reporting has driven print reporting into the pit of free-content without a business model to pay for it.

As news blogging expands people are coming to expect more from their news than they get from their daily fish wrapper.

Whether you call them bloggers, new journalists, citizen reporters, or loudmouth activists doesn’t matter.

When those who report on-line- whether like Tucker in denial of their function or like Hunt in denial of the title for Tucker- provide the core content people crave the blog-o-sphere can and will fill the news-o-sphere niche with truth and facts being the only advertised commodities.

Then the only question will be the same one the corporate press faces- how to pay for it. We’ll try to delve into that in the near future

6 comments:

Aaron Stene said...

Andy, this a comment I left here directed to Damon's actions

http://www.bigislandchronicle.com/?p=565#comment-397

Damon,I hope you take to heart what I blogged about yesterday. I know you try to mean well. But on the flip side, it seems you are for the most part a “gun slinging journalist.” Blogging that way does indeed bring you eons of blog visits. However it erodes your blog’s credibility.

On other hand, I decided when I started blogging in October 2005 that I would blog responsibly and with integrity. I know it has cost me blog visits. But I’d rather have a blog with credibility versus one without.


I also blogged about this here :

http://thekonablog.wordpress.com/2009/01/03/tiffany-edwards-hunts-sage-advice-to-damon-tucker-about-blogging-responsibly/

Got Facts? said...

It's no secret why Andy wants to define "reporter" down to "anyone who writes anything about anything online, including unsupported made up personal opinions." Because obviously that's the only way he would qualify to call himself a reporter. The question is, why is Andy so fixated on calling himself a reporter?

bigislandbetty said...

It's ironic. Andy wants desperately to be called a reporter but is incapable of doing anything to make that a reality, yet Damon, who does a fair job of doing everything reporters are supposed to do, wants nothing to do with the term.

D said...

Damon wants nothing more than attention....hes gotta be LOVING this. Sadly this sort of flap will only make him want to be even more obnoxious. I predict a run in with the cops before the end of the year that;ll find him in handcuffs. Well see if he shuns the PRESS shield then!

Just a Guy said...

Wow...I disagree with so much of what Andy posts, but from time to time he really can get above the details and into a larger viewpoint, beyond the initial microcosm. And he nailed it here....the comments to Andy's post thus far show such a lack of comprehension that it just baffles me. Aaron thinks that Damon gets "eons of visits" for this type of posting, when it's less than 1% of what Damon posts, Got Facts misses his point entirely, and D thinks that Damon has subjected himself to all this flak simply for attention (you've got to be kidding, right?)

Know what? Regardless of the "right" or "wrong" of Damon's post / view(s) of reporters / bloggers, no one can deny that it has enabled many a blogger / commenter to go way beyond what he initially told us.

Thanks to Damon, Aaron, Charley Foster, Andy, and everyone else for providing viewpoints that got me to think about so many other things....RIGHT ON! (Can't say I get that very often from the TH / WHT / TGI...)

John Powell said...

Whether Damon's a "reporter" or a "blogger" he's a citizen who has the right to observe and document what the police are up to. Police or other public employees can't have an expectation of privacy or secrecy when they're on the job.