by Jerry Agar
Not so long ago in America if it wasn’t on Walter Cronkite’s news report or in the pages of the New York Times, it wasn’t news. Most of the rest of the electronic and print reporters and commentators relied on those two entities to show them what was important.
A person who knew something the big news operations did not, especially if their news contrasted with the way the media chieftains saw the world, was labeled as a crank and dismissed.
The cost of setting up a competing news operation was a barrier to entry only a select few could penetrate. It is so cost prohibitive to start a daily paper that former KGB General Oleg Kalugin told me that it was the only piece of the “long march through the institutions” the Russians were unable to achieve.
The recent explosive story exposing the depths some ACORN employees were willing to sink to in order to thwart “the man” is the latest example of how powerful a tool the Internet is to the little guy and gal.
With the help of local bloggers listed below I have compiled a list of the “10 Great Events in the Rise of the New Media.”
We have tried to make a list of transformative moments.The Virginia Tech shootings, the landing on the Hudson and the 7/7 Tube bombings in London were initially reported by cell phone and blog, showing the power of on-site reporting with new media, but were perhaps not seminal moments, as they would have been reported anyway, and quickly, by the mainstream media (MSM).
The list is an attempt to put these events in order of importance, rather than chronology, but it is not presented as definitive. Lists like this are inevitably arguable and worthy of discussion. Please, leave comments and discuss. That is the point.
10. MSM outlets worldwide cave to pressure and refuse to print cartoons of Mohammed. Media outlets that previously, and currently, would have no problem printing a cartoon that offends Christians or occasionally other religions, refused to print comics by a Danish Cartoonist, because Muslims threatened violence. Christians do not threaten violence when insulted in the pages of a paper, which offered a good editorial point that was seemingly lost on Western editors. Those same editors suddenly lost their customary zeal for free speech. It fell to the bloggers to get the full story to the public. Michelle Malkin is one who published the cartoons. Hardly any American papers did so. The editors of those papers were cowardly, but are still living. But then, Malkin, and bloggers like her, were brave, and by the way, are also still alive. Free speech prevailed, but not because of the MSM.
9.Salam Pax and Iranians on Twitter – Pax, a blogger in Iraq kept the world informed in a way Western journalists could not. During and after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the pseudonymous Pax told the world the story from the inside from the perspective of one who was living the war as a civilian, and as someone who had lived under Saddam. His blog is available in book form, “Salam Pax, the Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi.” The book’s description on Amazon reads, “Salam daily risked retribution from Saddam's regime, as more than 200,000 people went missing under Saddam, many for far lesser crimes than the open criticism of the regime that Salam voiced in his diary. As a huge American-led force gathered to destroy Saddam's hated regime, Salam's Internet diary became a unique record of the anticipation, anger, resentment, humor, and sheer terror felt by an ordinary man living through the final days of Saddam Hussein's twenty-five-year dictatorship, and the aftermath of its destruction.”
As Iranians took to the streets in protest of the election this past summer, traditional news outlets seemed lost. Iranians provided the news themselves through Twitter. Readwriteweb pointed out that CNN, the network that brought us Tienanmen Square live, could not keep up to current media on the ground in Iran.
8. Internet overtakes newspapers as news source. Certainly a lot of the people going on line for their news are going to newspaper web pages. But bloggers can’t be found in newspapers.There is that barrier to entry. Once a fish is swimming in your waters, all you need is bait. News consumers have jumped into the water.
7. Trent Lott forced to resign. “I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years either.” - Sen. Trent Lott, Dec. 5, 2002 The story got out, but was not front-page stuff until both liberal and conservative bloggers jumped all over it. According to a Harvard Kennedy School paper, the story did not really catch fire until the bloggers gave it a major push. John Podhoretz, writing in the New York Post, called Lott’s demise “The Internet’s First Scalp.”“Lott became the first majority leader in Senate history to resign under pressure. How it all happened is told in the new case study from Harvard’s Kennedy School, ‘Big Media” Meets the “Bloggers.’
6. John Kerry's ”stuck in Iraq" comment – and Swift Boat Veterans. During his presidential run, Kerry made his service in Vietnam a central part of his candidacy. At a rally in California Senator Kerry said that if you don’t study and try to be smart, you will end up stuck in Iraq. Local papers included the comment but did not highlight it. A YouTube clip surfaced and bloggers spread the story, which ignited into a fireball, from which Kerry refused to back down. Veterans saw the comment as an attack on the intelligence of the average soldier.
As the MSM tried its best to ignore the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the book “Unfit for Command,” bloggers hammered the story, forcing Kerry to shift his explanations several times, especially on whether he was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve, 1968, on Nixon’s orders. Nixon was not president in 1968. His reputation was so damaged that when he presented himself to the Democratic Convention as “reporting for duty” and saluted, he was mocked by more people than a candidate can afford.
5. Bloggers embed with military units in Iraq to cover the war. Perhaps a tipping point in blogging becoming mainstream (and yes, there is irony in that) was the acceptance by the Pentagon of bloggers traveling with soldiers. Certainly there has been criticism that many of those bloggers, being former military themselves, were too pro-military and the war. Perhaps they were, but as such they gave a balance to much of the reporting from traditional outlets which are seen by many Americans as reporting from the other perspective.
4. Time makes internet content providers Persons of the Year. Technically, the person of the year, 2006, was YOU. Remember that silly mirror on the front cover? But the point was that YOU matter now. And you matter because of the Internet. Time gave as its explanation, “It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.”
Blogger Paul Mitchell wrote, “Make no mistake, just as with Newt Gingrich, Time's Man of the Year for 1994, Time Magazine still holds us bloggers in full contempt. They don't really admit that they've lost the reins of the global media, and they'll cling to them and try to keep them for themselves.” Probably true Paul, (and they should try to hold the reigns – that is their job) but they demonstrated that bloggers were now so powerful that they could not be ignored. And that was three years ago; a lifetime on the Internet.
3. ACORN Exposed on the Net. I think we all know this story right now. What is so important about it is that the MSM would never have uncovered the depth of the corruption and sickness inside ACORN. They were too busy vilifying conservatives and Republicans who tried to warn the public about the organization. ACORN claimed to be for the little guy (I thought imported 13 year old sex slaves were as “little and powerless” as it gets) and put up a shrieking defense of racism against their critics. The MSM bought it. Two young amateur journalists did not. ACORN, a power on the left and an Obama-favored organization, may not survive.
By the way, when WLS morning host Don Wade asked Charlie Gibson about the vote to defund ACORN, Gibson still did not even know about the 5 day old story, and he lamely said that maybe it was a story we “should leave to the cables.” That sort of snarky response bodes well for the growth of the new media.
2. Dan Rather's fake Bush National Guard evidence exposed on the net. It is tempting to say that Rather lied. It may be more accurate to say that he let his strong personal agenda trump his obligation to search for the truth. According to Wikipedia’s timeline, it was Free Republic, Little Green Footballs and Powerline who got the ball rolling in terms of calling out the documents Rather had presented as fakes, which they ultimately proved to be.
Had the story not been immediately, reasonably and accurately challenged, would Rather’s accusations have become “general knowledge?” It is hard to take back a front page headline once people have gotten used to the story. It may never have been refuted, and Rather may have destroyed a presidency. If a president falls due to the truth, or his own lies, as Nixon did and Clinton almost did, that is his own fault. In this case, it was Rather, the un-careful, the MSM giant, who fell. Bloggers showed that the MSM were no longer the definitive source.
1. Drudge breaks Monica Lewinski story. On January 17th, 1998 Matt Drudge reported the story that President Clinton was having sexual encounters in the White House with an intern named Monica Lewinski. Newsweek reportedly had turned the story down. You know the story. It is #1 on this list because it was the day the traditional gatekeepers of the news were most decisively scooped, and over-ridden in their decision as to what does or does not constitute the news. Drudge now sets the national news agenda; if it's on Drudge, everyone else has to report it sooner or later.
Newspapers and magazines are aggressively developing a presence on the web. Good for them. They need to be here. But it is still about the content, not the delivery system.
The following bloggers helped out enormously:
The Chicago News Bench Wilmette Publius' Forum Thoughts of a Regular Guy