Sunday, April 05, 2009

I agree with the JTA: Don't rely on bloggers alone

Many of my blogging colleagues are outraged that JTA is attempting to raise money by dissing the blogopshere. The quote from the JTA's fundraising letter that is making everyone so angry is this: "without a strong JTA, the storytelling will be left to bloggers, twitterers, and non-professionals."

But isn't this true? More importantly, wouldn't it be a bad thing if the old media were to fold up its tent and leave the business of investigating and reporting news to the blogosphere?

Many bloggers are excellent writers, and savvy commenters, but with the exception, perhaps, of Stephen I. Weiss, Shmarya Failed Messiah and some others, bloggers don't do a whole lot of first-hand reporting. Our most popular Jewish news blogs are aggregators, trading openly on the work and reputation of newspapers, and television stations. The average blogger has neither the time nor the money nor the chops to pursue, source, and assemble a straight news story. Instead, we riff on the work of others, or spread the rumors that serious journalists later investigate, substantiate and turn into news.

As a proud riffer, and spreader of rumors I maintain these services are valuable. I also agree that many bloggers can do most of what the JTA does. Some of us are wonderful at soft-news fluff like lifestyle reporting, divray Torah, and music reviews. Some of us are brilliant at polemics, and can write scathing editorials that rate with anything you'll find at the JTA. These services are valuable, and must not be underestimated, which is the mistake that made the JTA's letter so insulting. Unfortunately many of the bloggers acting horrified at the JTA's slight are returning the favor, by underestimating what the JTA does that the blogsphere can not. We're sharp, talented, hungry and passionate, but as Micheal Hirschone put it in his article about the demise of the New York Times, bloggers, as yet,"can't set agendas, conduct in-depth investigations, or break high-level news." We don't have the resources to send real reporters into the field, and we don't have the credibility to command action. We bloggers can make some noise, but JTA can do that, too, in addition to being uniquely positioned to make sure more people hear and accept it.

The blogosphere matters because we bring problems into the open, and because we keep windbags like Avi Shafron honest. JTA matters because their experienced and well-connected reporters can weave our straw into gold, and because their organizational reach and reputation can give our scoops and rumors credibility and audiences we're, as yet, not able to acquire on our own. Sure we work together, and complement each other, playing at times, like different sections of the same orchestra.

But, at the end of the day, JTA provides the essential service. Not us.

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