Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution
January 2006 / / February 2006
BY RUSS BAKER
Times have certainly changed when bloggers who rail about mainstream journalism can rent part of the Rainbow Room, atop Manhattan's GE building -- a temple of the media establishment -- to announce the latest iteration of the revolution.
As something of a hybrid between old and new media myself, I was intrigued by what I'd heard about Pajamas Media, a for-profit company that gathered some seventy bloggers onto its megasite and raised $ 3.5 million as it prepared to elevate "citizen journalism" and "redefine journalism in the 21st Century and beyond." So I donned my best suit and headed to Rockefeller Center on November 16.
One cofounder of the Los Angeles-based venture is Roger Simon, a screenwriter, mystery novelist, and self-described social liberal who supported the war in Iraq. The other is Charles Johnson, a professional guitarist who runs the conservative Web site www.littlegreenfoot-balls.com, and who led the charge against CBS over the flawed Bush National Guard story. The eclectic Pajamas Media participant list includes brothers from Baghdad, Australians, and aficionados of technology, fashion, and vodka. But the thrust is clearly on American politics, and PM promises "bottom-up" journalism and commentary "by citizens using their observations and knowledge, informed by a desire to speak honestly."
A curious example soon came in the person of the luncheon keynoter, one Judith Miller. She offered five commandments for bloggers who want admission to the mainstream media, including being honest about one's agenda and admitting when one makes mistakes. "If you're wrong," she said, "keep going till you get it right."
Next came a video hookup featuring Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and close ally of President Bush, who proceeded to slam traditional journalism for its "partisanship," citing Dan Rather as exhibit A, and declaring that he reads blogs "for the truth."
Reading the blogger biographies, I saw that, despite claims to bipartisanship -- and a few token liberals -- there was a whiff of reaction. One participant wrote the book The Death of Right and Wrong: Exposing the Left's Assault on Our Culture and Values. The squibs were full of Fox News, National Review Online, Washington Times, The Weekly Standard, and such.
Of course, Pajamas is a fledgling operation that deserves the benefit of the doubt. Simon insists that he is interested in a genuine exchange of ideas, and The Nation's David Corn -- one of those token liberals -- told me that he "signed up assuming good faith." He also said he is "watching with a careful eye."
But what troubled my old-media soul isn't a matter of left-right. It's that I heard nothing about PM's commitment to reporting or to intellectual honesty -- the two things most lacking in the blogworld. The avalanche of unearned opinion that is produced each day by bloggers needs no leg up, but honest journalism sure does. Watch with a careful eye, indeed.