Friday, July 08, 2005

Bloggers, the Media, and the London Bombings

It seems almost irresponsible for a blogger not to blog about the terrorist attacks in London yesterday (Full Coverage in the London Times), yet I’ve struggled to come up with anything substantive to blog about. At this point, with many of the specifics about the attack still uncertain, any analysis is mostly half-founded speculation. Many bloggers have attempted to weigh in, but looking around the blogosphere, bloggers from Andrew Sullivan to Daily Kos have just used the London attacks to reinforce their allready strongly held political views.

The truth is, the mainstream media does an excellent job of covering the facts of these sorts of events as they happen. When I heard news of the attacks on the radio Monday morning, I turned immediately to cable news, not to my computer. Not that the blogosphere has nothing to add: The first hand accounts of bloggers in London during the attacks provide a far greater depth of coverage that could have ever been imagined in the pre-blog days.

Just keep in mind that the individual blogger is much like the individual reporter. And no blog has access to the sheer number of reporters that the cable networks and other mainstream media sources have access too. The rise of the blogosphere, and rise of other sources of alternative media have little or nothing to do with the mainstream media’s coverage of very fact specific events like the terrorist attacks. Rather, the rise of alternative media has everything to do with the analysis of such fact specific news. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, what the blogosphere has to offer is limited in comparison to the mainstream media. Once all the facts become clearer, look for the blogosphere to weigh in with everything from sound insightful analysis to unfounded conspiracy theories.

Bloggers may love to criticize the mainstream media, but it’s important to give credit where credit is due. It’s also important to recognize expertise where expertise deserves to be recognized. The journalist reporting from a war zone deserves all the credit for, well, reporting from a war zone. But a journalist reporting from a war zone may be no more qualified to analyze his observations, or analyze the war itself than an armchair blogger would be. In certain instances, a blogger with military expertise may be far better qualified to analyze the journalist’s observations than the journalist himself would be. Once these distinctions between information gathering and analysis are apparent, it becomes clear how very different they are.

The difference between information based news and analysis based news can be summed up in brief. Fact based news can tell us at least 50 dead in the London attacks. That can be spun in various ways. “50 Infidels Killed by Freedom Fighters.” Or, “Woman and children among the 50 dead in unprovoked terrorist attacks.” Either way, whatever your political ideology, you know the 50 people were killed in the attacks on London. Analysis based news has no such common nucleus of fact. “Britain unprepared for latest attacks by Muslim fanatics,” and “London incident a direct result of Western intervention in Iraq,” both attempt to explain why the attacks occurred. But clearly they are two very different conclusions.

News gathering agencies and reporters do in fact have a monopoly on information gathering. Bloggers in the United States would have very little to blog about in regards to London if there was not a constant flow of information from traditional news sources coming out of London. What bloggers can provide is expertise and insight, perhaps to a greater extent than any of the information gatherers.

Look for bloggers to continue in this role, along with their role in checking the factual assumptions of the mainstream media. (See Friday's Best of the Web, questioning the New York Time's use of the phrase "so-called war on terror.")


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