Saturday, April 09, 2005

Marquette Tribune Dislikes Blogs (Surprise!)

We have described the Marquette Tribune as “Marquette’s junior version of the mainstream media.” This was never more obvious than in an April 7, 2005 editorial, in which the Tribune opined that:

The recent trend of posting opinions on so-called “blogs” ought to be cause for pause and consideration within the Marquette community. While the Tribune welcomes a diversity of opinions on campus (despite what detractors may say), the blogs provide an uncensored look at the inner workings of some of the most opinionated people on campus.
Oh, my! Blogs might allow opinionated people to express their opinions! Apparently, “opinionated people” does not include the editors of the Tribune, who express their opinions in each issue of the paper.

The editorial went on to claim:

A recent example, culled from the pages of the Des Moines Register, is an excellent illustration as to why consideration, and in some cases restraint, should be applied to the content of the developing form of public opinion.

Paul Wainwright of Grinnell College in Des Moines, Iowa, was arrested while at home on spring break in Milwaukee. Apparently he was arrested for a posting on his blog that Des Moines police found threatening and the FBI has been called in to investigate. Wainwright was apparently a member of a Grinnell College Comedy troup [sic] analogous to the Studio 013 Refugees. He is currently being held in the Milwaukee County Jail pending extradition to Iowa for “threatening a terrorist act.”

Passionate advocates for the First Amendment could feasibly suggest that this action amounts to a violation of Wainwright’s rights. People focused on security over civil rights would say that Wainwright’s statement, “This means blood in the streets,” apparently directed at Des Moines Police officers, deserved investigation, and part of that investigation is to detain Wainwright until the verité [sic] of the “imminent threat” could be investigated.
My, my. We used to think that journalists were among “passionate advocates for the First Amendment.”

The Tribune doesn’t explain what the context of this statement was. When Inside Higher Ed looked into it, they found that the language was indeed highly inflammatory, but also that there was plenty of doubt that he meant it seriously. They quote one student as follows:
The post looks very bad when read out of context, but it was all written with tongue firmly — very firmly — in cheek, and no one who knew him at all well doubted that it was a joke. Unfortunately, someone with no sense of proportion or context (probably an administrator, although no one has claimed responsibility for the atrocity) contacted the police about it, and Paul was arrested. Apparently at no point during the process did anyone step back and consider, for instance, whether a student at left-liberal Grinnell would ever refer to “Ruby Ridge” [which the post did] any way but ironically.
Now let’s have a little multiple choice test.
Item: An anonymous student “Viewpoints” writer for the Tribune says there will be “blood in the streets” if the “racist behavior of Milwaukee cops” doesn’t stop. Milwaukee cops visit the Tribune office, and demand information on the writer. Does the Tribune:
  1. Commend the Milwaukee cops for their quick response to a threat?
  2. Editorially apologize for running the column?
  3. Insist the Milwaukee cops aren’t racist?
  4. Run an editorial slamming the cops infringement of Freedom of the Press?
We all know the answer to this one.

But the more fundamental question has to be asked. Just what does any of this have to do with “opinionated” people expressing opinions on Marquette blogs? When Tribune editors see a new blog here, do they immediately think of guns and violence?

Maybe so.

The reasons the mainstream media (MSM) and their campus acolytes (which includes most journalism professors and student journalists) don’t like blogs aren’t hard to figure out.

The first is ideology. Those who identify with the mainstream media look back to the halcyon days when the vast majority of Americans got their news from CBS, NBC and ABC. Those who went to the print media were likely to go to Time or Newsweek, and the real news hounds read the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times.

To find conservative opinions, one had to dig a bit: to get National Review or the Wall Street Journal.

But that was before the rise of conservative talk radio, before Fox News and before the Internet. The modern media scene is much more a level playing field, in which the average, not terribly political, American is likely to be exposed to both liberal and conservative interpretations and opinions.

It’s really hard to enjoy a level playing field when you are used to having it slanted in your favor. It’s easier to believe that something is fundamentally wrong, and that all those irresponsible outsiders have intruded on what is your right: to decide what should be reported, and to interpret what it means.

It’s no coincidence that when the Federal Elections Commission debated whether to treat blogs as a form of journalism, exempt from regulation, the Republican commissioners voted to do this, but all the Democratic commissioners wanted blogs regulated.

Organizational Interests

The other factor is the crass organizational interests of mainstream media organizations. New outlets, and blogs especially, have the potential to bypass traditional outlets, and deprive them of their monopoly in deciding what people get to see and hear.

Further, new media provide competition for old media with the potential to make the latter look bad. The blog, especially, has asked tough questions in cases where the Tribune has been all too happy to simply rewrite University press releases.

This blog too has provided information the Tribune either didn’t provide or was way “behind the curve” printing. When an Engineering professor compared American military snipers to Nazis, and implied that College Republicans support Nazis, the Administration took the matter seriously enough to issue an apology. But the Tribune paid no attention at all.

On February 24th, six days before a meeting of the Board of Trustees on March 2nd, we reported here that the Trustees would not make any decision on the “Warriors” issue at that meeting. But the day before the meeting, the Tribune ran an editorial calling on the trustees, at the March 2nd meeting, not to return to the Warriors nickname.

We have also taken the Tribune to task for their hypocrisy and double standards on free speech issues.

The simple fact is that it’s more comfortable being part of a monopoly than part of a competitive market. When the bloggers – derided by mainstream media types as “guys in pajamas in their living rooms” – brought down Dan Rather that hurt and shocked the mainstream media and their campus acolytes. And it did so in spite of the fact (or perhaps because of the fact) that what CBS reported was untrue, but what the bloggers reported was accurate.

But like it or not, the Era of the New Media is here. The Old Media have no choice about that, and might as well learn to compete. Bitching and whining about the competition isn’t a productive response.


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