May 17, 2005
Blogs not yet mainstream
An online response to today's column, "Bush already irrelevant", about Democrats needing to focus on winning control of one or both houses of Congress, noted that I must not be reading the blogs because most comments in the blogosphere are saying just that.
I admit that I do not read blogs as much as I should. But then neither do many other people. A new Pew Internet Project study shows that blog readership hasn't yet reached the point where the threads of conversations blogs start can be considered the talk of the land.
Briefly put, if only a few are listening, then a message is not getting out and if the message is not getting out, not much will happen. As the Pew study noted, 27 percent of Internet users read blogs. That does translate to 32 million people, but that does not mean 32 million politically involved people. During the 2004 election campaign, only 9 percent of Internet users said they read political blogs "frequently" or "sometimes." That means only about 11 million political blog readers. Contrast that with the Editor and Publisher estimate of 44 million people reading newspapers online. (Again that does not mean 44 million politically involved people.)
All this really means is that blogging has not yet become a mainstream method of getting or giving information. But among those who regularly read blogs, it might seem as though the topic under discussion is being discussed all over the place. That points to another problem with the Internet it internalizes communication among a select few.
Someday, blogging might become a forum that will drive the national debate. But with 62 percent of the 120 million Americans online not knowing what a blog is, information must still be disseminated the old-fashioned way.
Posted by Rick Larsen at 10:10 AM
May 16, 2005
The Woodward-and-Bernstein rule
When the media get it wrong, the results can be devastating. We need look no further than the tragic incidents that have occurred over the last week because reporters for Newsweek magazine got a story horribly wrong.
The facts: Newsweek reported in its May 9 issue that interrogators desecrated a copy of the Quran at Guantanamo Naval Base, the facility where detainees from the war against the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies in Afghanistan have been held. The report sparked outrage in Afghanistan and, in the ensuing demonstrations, at least 15 people died and scores were injured.
As one who works in the media, I am inclined to defend reporters and publications who come under fire for the stories they produce, much in the same way police come to the defense of their brethren when they are criticized for the way they handled an arrest or a car chase. But I am not so enamored by my chosen profession to believe it infallible.
It can never be infallible because those of us who work in the profession do not have all the answers. We are like historians, recording what happens on a daily basis, perhaps trying occasionally to put events into context. But journalism merely records history as it unfolds. What we know today might change with what we learn tomorrow.
I fear that, in the quest to uncover the facts, too many journalists and the news organizations for which they work have fallen victim to the must-have-it-first syndrome. Nothing else matters but to be first with the news to drive ratings, to drive circulation, to drive listenership. Rushing to be first does lead to errors, as Newsweek found this past week, as Dan Rather found out last year.
What journalists forget, I think, in the rush to be first is what I like to call the Woodward-and-Bernstein Rule: Take your time.
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, for the few who might not know, parlayed a burglary story into an investigation that uncovered misdeeds that led to the resignation of a president. They did not do this overnight; they did not do this by conjecture. It took them more than two years and painstaking work to uncover the story.
Journalism should not be a rush to judgement. Newsweek found that out the hard way last week and people died.
Posted by Rick Larsen at 02:15 PM
May 12, 2005
How many dead? Never mind, "American Idol's on"
My days begin early, at 5 a.m., even on weekends. Very strong coffee set to brewing, first of two morning papers bought in, television turned to CNN's American Morning. Lately, another routine seems to have been added: Arriving in the middle of the latest Iraq death toll from roadside and suicide bombs 69 Wednesday, another 24 today.
Over the last two weeks, insurgents have killed more than 400 people and the rate at which the attacks have been going, scores a day, that toll might easily reach beyond 500 by the weekend. Iraqi civilian casualties haven't been talked of much until this recent spate of bombing. The full toll of ordinary Iraqis killed since the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003 has been estimated at between 6,000 and nearly 100,000, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Coverage of the daily bombings has been unrelenting, but less well covered has been the mounting toll of American military forces. As of today (Thursday, May 12), 1,613 have died since the start of the war, according to The Associated Press, 1,475 since the end of major combat was declared by President Bush in May 2003. The U.S. death rate so far this year has been 283, which means the mounting casualty rate is on track to top 2,000 by year's end.
In addition, another 176 coalition troops have been killed. And, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualties Web site, 234 civilian contractors have died. Coupled with U.S. military deaths, deaths from the war have topped 2,000 and that doesn't count other civilians like Nick Berg who was kidnapped and beheaded about the time the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison were revealed.
It makes me wonder if the American public is taking for granted those killed in the unnecessary war in Iraq. No, not the Americans who have lost loved ones, but the rest of us, especially politicians in Congress and the Bush administration. Whether demand drives the media or media drive the demand, people have been fed and look to be fed a diet of pure pap: Michael Jackson's molestation trial, Texas trying to clamp down on what some lawmakers call cheerleading routines too-sexually suggestive, trying to uncover the real details why Jennifer Wilbanks, of George, faked a story of abduction and sexual assault several days before her wedding and which young entertainer who wants stardom handed on a plate rather than earning it will become the next American idol.
If people in this nation and that especially means those who placed our troops in harm's way for false and misleading reasons truly cared about the hardships our troops are enduring in Iraq, about the devotion to duty these troops unselfishly give, about the mounting death toll among all who fight and live in Iraq, they wouldn't be elevating debate over the filibuster to the level of constitutional crisis; they wouldn't have been massing in Florida, turning a woman who most likely should have died a decade ago into a political football for selfish partisan gains; they wouldn't be so worried about Janet Jackson's breast, naughty words spoken in "Saving Private Ryan" and whether Howard Stern says the word "ass" or just makes himself out to be one. They would be demanding this government and those who started this war do what is necessary to bring the war to its speediest conclusion. As it is, indications are this war will likely last at least another two years.
By the same token, media outlets would be keeping the faces of war in the forefront. Television news outlets would show the daily toll the war in Iraq is taking on American troops and Iraqi civilians with a box ever-present on the screen. And newspapers would be doing the same with a box prominently displayed on the front page.
Posted by Rick Larsen at 01:54 PM