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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bloggers Vs. MSM: It Sounds Like Ohio's Jill Miller Zimon Is Raising A White Flag

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- The Plain Dealer and have come a knocking at her door, and Jill Miller Zimon now wants to rachet down the racket that has often pitted the Ohiosphere against the mainstream media. Has she joined an armistice caucus? It even seems as though the gentlelady who authors Writes Like She Talks is proposing peace talks nationwide -- not just in Ohio -- and is writing about it, too. But don't release the doves just yet.

Of course, many are not ready to abandon the trenches. The Daily Bellwether down here in Cincinnati itches to practice Ho Chi Minh journalism, popping up unexpectedly and ready to ambush the MSM. Bizzyblog has battled the The New York Times and duels with the MSM on a site called NewsBusters. And Joe Hallett at the Columbus Dispatch has been a repeated target of salvos from the 'sphere, whose hard work he has been prone to write off as copycat or derivative. Wendy Hoke tangled with the Society of Professional Journalists, then abandoned her membership because it tried to put the interests of Big Media ahead of the indies and freelancers.

Truth is, the MSM is quite a different beast.

The vast majority of blogs are sole proprietorships, or tight knit operations with tiny staffs. Most of the MSM looks like a social insect colony by comparison. There are editors who decide what stories may say. The are other editors who decide where they are played. There are yet more who decide the headlines. And then some more who pick the pictures. There are writers and reporters and photojournalists who have stacks of editors on top of them, so many it can seem like there are hot and cold running editors . And there are editors over the editors. The top editors answer to publishers, who often answer to corporate masters in distant locations.

And the MSM -- print or broadcast -- isn't run for public service, the personal satisfaction of producing content, or even the pursuit of partisan political goals. Its sole bottom line is profit -- making money by reaching a mass audience.

Another difference: Most MSM outlets occupy a specific hunk of turf, and they are loathe to let it go. The Toledo Blade, or the Columbus Dispatch, or The Plain Dealer, all have their hometown audiences and they cater to news and topics for that little slice of the universe.

A blog isn't chained to any patch of real estate, but it can enthusiastically be chained to a philosophy or partisan viewpoint -- often those are the only reasons for a blog's existence. It can be inclined to start fights or quarrels. It can be anti-Wal-Mart, or pro-Wal-Mart. It is free to be anything it wants.

Buckeye State Blog is partisan as hell, but it is not focused on Cleveland readers or a Cleveland market. BSB's Jerid wandered all over New Hampshire like a Democratic Johnny Appleseed this summer covering the presidential campaign on a shoestring. He sowed his opinions and watched them sprout. No MSM outlet in Ohio has attempted to do that, nor would it dare. A reporter could suggest it -- but an editor would have to review the work -- and a bean counter would have to approve spending the money before shuttling someone off to the Granite State.

And then a story about Mitt Romney -- well, it might not be news at all if there was a fire in a house on a suburban cul-de-sac somewhere in Delaware County.

So praise the blogs and pass the ammunition. Don't go AWOL in the struggle between Us vs. Them.

Yes, the MSM has the bigger guns. But the bloggers seem to be very precise marksmen. Although another simile comes to mind from the world of social insects -- termites. They are hardly ever seen, but their munch packs punch. And when termites eat away the foundations, even the biggest edifice can topple. And if you are a blogger, and you hear your keyboard clacking as you write, that's the sound of termites munch, munch, munching away . . .


  1. Hi Bill - thanks for writing about this topic. I've been singing this song since I started blogging - WLST is littered with examples of my queries about why is the relationship so venomous. My most famous post on this issue was probably in response to Dick Feagler's 12/05 column (from which he has obviously recovered, to wit, he's had me on the show twice and has even spoken the word blog and bloggers on the show).

    So - nice parallel to the hopeful negotiations, but if anything, the fact that a few bloggers and the PD have arrived at this point with the PD is because of the openness and willingness some of us have demonstrated for a very long time to "try and get along" - or better, collaborate.

    Shhh - don't want to jinx. ;)

  2. Oops - you know, I think some of the pesticide I've had to use on my poor daughter's scalp has seeped into my brain.

    I meant to add info before hitting submit on that last comment but here's what I wanted to add:

    You weren't blogging then, but in 12/05, I also instigated three "field trips" to attend the PD editorial meetings. I think at least one other person (blogger) always joined me and once I think there were three or four of us.

    Some bloggers scoffed. I didn't really care about that. I wanted to check it out - I was very bothered by all the nastiness toward the MSM without going and checking it out for myself, which is what I did.

    That was the first time I met the editors, including Jean Dubail with whom we're now negotiating.

    So, again, this current spate of conversations didn't happen overnight. It follows a pattern of doing what I do and communicating all along the way.

    Don't know where it will go or for how long. And I think that's just fine.

    Again - thanks for bringing attention to the situation. It's very exciting to me, and completely consistent with everything I've written through the present.

  3. Hi Jill -

    I think you are wrong to advocate any kind of truce, or grand entente, between the MSM and bloggers. Don't try to be a Kissinger. In some ways, they are the Evil Empire. They would stop you in a second if they could -- maybe not the newsies (although many hate and detest what you do) -- but definitely the biz side. Have you noticed that most newspapers don't link or mention blogs at all? Have you ever been linked by a Gannett paper in Ohio?

  4. I guess this is why I also don't believe in a one-state solution to the Middle East problems (Israel in particular): I don't see my actions as looking for detente or a truce. It's my original position, to collaborate, include.

    If anything, I see it as my getting soemthing I wouldn't have gotten before. That someone else gets something they want shouldn't stop me, it just has to make me negotiate more wisely.

    I'm sympathetic to the viewpoint you express - and I'm guessing you aren't Bill? because Bill usually leaves comments as Bill, right Bill?? :).

    But typically, that's never been my approach to pretty much anything. Just doesn't fit with my worldview.

    Sure, I could get burned. I'll take that risk. As for what it might do to or for blogs overall?

    I think that would be way too grandiose a viewpoint. Barely 200 people a day even click on my blog, and even then, they don't stay for very long.

    Seriously - with all the print publications still left, and the gazillions of blogs, I don't think whether my desire to be with a move rather than versus a move is going to make much of a difference, especially if it fails.

    But it's humbling that someone else thinks it might.

    Last aside - a well-known journalism professional I know told me almost two years ago to stop associating with Meet the Bloggers or I'd never be picked up by any self-respecting editor and it would be my demise.

  5. Without old media bloggers would lose 90% of the subject matter they write about. Most blogs are totally dependent on the press. One of my goals in doing local targeted blogging was reduce this dependency.

    As for linking, bloggers shouldn't care. The goal is to manipulate the press, not get validation from them. Every story in the Cincinnati Enquirer about the Ohio 2nd primary is validation enough for me, since I remember what it was like before I started covering the district.

  6. Hi Jill --

    This is Bill. I don't know what to say about an MSM/Blog marriage except that, deep down, I am not a fan. I do see where it can attract readers to your site, any site I suppose, but I also think it is a risk of loss of independence, or liberty. You are hearing from someone who went the opposite way -- I thought the papers were stagnating and jumped to blogging on my own. And I love the blog, and the bloggers -- from all sides of the political debate, and from all philosophies (Okay, not the anarchists etc). I guess if the goal is to monetize a blog, then the link-up makes sense. If the goal is different, to steer public policy (not shape it or control it, but to get people discussing) then the blog is a susperior media.

    Just look at Chris Baker's commment after yours. I have more to say in response to him directly.

  7. Hi Chris --

    You make an excellent observation. Too many blogs depend on the press. But the press depends on wire services and pr handouts, too. There is less original content today than 10 years ago. There are fewer reporters producing stories in Ohio today than 10 years ago, and that trend is all across the United States.

    Now, as to what you did with Oh-02 . . .

    You are absolutely right that you got people to pay attention by focusing on that race. In the newsrooms I am familiar with (a lot of them) there was little interest in congressional races. Reporters often were interested, but sometimes were met with an attitude that such politics was not widely interesting, or wouldn't be widely read. In other words: the old politics is boring thingy.

    When you started, some reporters were able to point to your work and say to their bosses, Look, people are interested. So you did help alter some very set in stone attitudes. I can attest to that, and my hat is off to you for what you did. Frankly, it was when I began reading your blogging maybe two years ago that I began to really get interested in what was happening, that the 'sphere was firming up and becoming something.

  8. Everything Bill and Chris say is true. And I agree with their observations.

    I'm an interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary person by nature. I understand and see these observations, but I don't see them as precluding other experiments, even those that could fail or don't serve everyone equally.

    Also, I believe both of you know how I feel about your writing/blogging. I couldn't be more in awe or feel more respect.

    But I also know that there are, even within the subset of political blogs, an enormous range of political blogs in terms of how they present news/information and what they present, and why they present it.

    I've never written as an advocacy tool so maybe that's partly why the concern about being co-opted doesn't resonate as much with me.

    Do you, Bill, Chris or anyone else, believe that there some solid, serious cons?

    It's a process - where we are with blogging as a tool for communicating. I see this as a stage in that process. And, true to my stereotype, I promise to overthink it, especially so long as good folks are pressing me too.

  9. I have this joke that if a campaign wants to destroy a blogger, all they have to do is hire them.

    It will be interesting to see what happens with the press does the same.

    It seems like a variation of the oped columnist where you get to post whenever you want, but don't have the validation of ink.

  10. Chris - I'm not sure I know what you mean - what do you mean about the oped columnist posting whenever they want without the validation of ink?

  11. There are different rules for an op-ed columnist such as George Will than there are for beat reporters.

  12. Hmm. Okay.

    Well - I hope for my sake that I don't get destroyed, but to some extent, won't the readers form opinions as to what "destruction of a blogger" looks like?

    I guess since I see my blogging as an extension of so many other things I do, that I don't feel that its what identifies me. So if signing a freelance contract with an MSM entity destroys anything related to me...I don't know. That would be pretty serious for me. I'd also like to think it's impossible.

    I'm not even sure what destruction would look like.

    But, maybe I'm just being unrealistically naive. Wouldn't be the first time, won't be the last.

  13. Hi Jill --

    I suppose Chris means that your flavor, or personality, or flair could be at risk of being destroyed, The way you write is your art, I guess. And he raises a serious point with his quip.

    Again, I am not an enthusiast about such a deal with the MSM. I think bloggers ought to be talking to venture capitalists -- or vice versa. We are the future, the MSM is the past, and the money guys maybe one day will recognize the potential upside and help us flourish and grow. I see this as rock n'roll in 1957. We are the kids with greasy hair and guitars. The MSM is the Glenn Miller band. People abandoned the orchestras for the kids with guitars.

    Have a great holiday.

  14. Well, I understand what you're saying, but as I've written before, there are still "full service" gas pumps at most stations for those leftover from that era. And the Lester Lanin band is still booked for many occasions.

    I guess we'll just have to see. I like a good challenge and I think I've got one.

    You have a good holiday too.

  15. Personally, it sounds interesting. This is all new territory so nothing ventured, nothing gained. I love watching the clashes of older and new technologies. I think that in the end we're going to see something totally different from either.

    The big question is are they trying to ride the wave, or control the wave. If it's the former they have a change of succeeding. If it's the latter, then they will be crushed like all the rest.

    I'll withhold formal congrats Jill until things are official.

  16. BTW, thanks for that insider bit of information in your earlier comment, Bill. That's good to hear.

  17. Chris - you're a wise guy in the best sense of that phrase. We're all holding our breadth, and I also think, interestingly, that the four of us trying this out have so much at stake in our daily lives that we wouldn't even attempt this if we didn't think there was something to be gained, in the big picture and the little picture.

    Frankly, I'm ready to be pummeled. And if and when that doesn't happen, I will STILL be waiting for it. Doesn't mean I'll do anything other than ignore it publicly and freak out about it privately, but that's the nature of new in this info/news arena.

    A year from now, it will be fascinating to re-assess.