A Planet of Opinion

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A Planet of Opinion

For KCRW, this is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

If you don't like what the press says about you, fire back.

In yesterday's New York Times, reporter Kit Seelye described how people who feel they have been misunderstood or badly treated in news stories have been using the Internet to correct the record. Subjects of newspaper articles and news broadcasts are now using the reporters' own methods -- taping interviews, gathering e-mails, taking notes on phone conversations -- and publishing them on their own Web sites.

Seelye cited several examples. The Discovery Institute, a conservative clearinghouse for believers of creationism, didn't like a segment on ABC's Nightline about intelligent design. The next day, the institute published on its Web site a transcript of the entire interview that Nightline had conducted with an institute official, and not just the brief quotes that had appeared on TV. The institute said the unedited transcript showed readers how the media screens out viewpoints "that don't fit their stereotypes."

Rebecca MacKinnon, a research fellow at Harvard Law School, told Seelye that, "If you're one of a growing number of people with a blog, you now have a place where you can set the record straight."

But Danny Schechter, executive editor of MediaChannel.org, said in The Times' story that while the involvement of so many readers was healthy for democracy and journalism, it had allowed partisanship to mask itself as media criticism.

I agree. It's good to see so many people, both in and out of journalism, talking about accuracy.

Sometimes, though, the freewheeling nature of the blogosphere means that it traffics in wildly irresponsible accusations, and the accusers are accountable to no one.

Not only that, but many of these bloggers pose as journalists, with none of the experience and knowledge that comes from years in the news trenches. They seem ignorant of the conventions of journalism, which require a solid appraisal of the facts and a commitment to objectivity before taking someone apart in a blog or on a Web site.

I've been the target of a few Web attacks, some of them too idiotic to merit a mention. Others were simply humorous. One self-appointed protector of the Arizona border wrote in 2002 that I should be fired from The New York Times after I had reported (accurately) that police said they were investigating whether border vigilantes had killed two migrants in the desert. He even trotted out the clich- that I "wasn't going to let the facts get in the way of a good story." I wonder why he felt so defensive?

Another dim-witted reader objected to a story of mine in The Times in which a former police chief in Compton, California, expressed an opinion about the use of force. Bear in mind it was only an opinion. But this reader, who disagreed with it, took it as fact, and snarled that I should have checked the "facts" in my story. He then took this little crusade to a chat room, where it was blown into some conspiracy by the errant New York Times and its apparently careless reporters.

I think this was the same guy who e-mailed me after reading my story about Bobby Shriver's candidacy for the Santa Monica City Council. This reader didn't think a nephew of John F. Kennedy going into politics was worth a story in The Times, especially since Shriver lives so far from New York City. The guy evidently didn't read the paper very often, or he would have seen all those datelines from places all over the planet.

If you're going to criticize journalists, you should first know what you're talking about.

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan