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As Long as We Remember...

February 19, 2009

The Future of News

Tony Soltero

When President Barack Obama held his first formal news conference of his young administration, he turned it into a historical moment. No, it wasn't the fact that at long last we have a president capable of speaking in complete sentences and providing nuanced, thoughtful answers to questions.


As welcome as that is, what made his conference so groundbreaking was that he... well, get ready for this…


Sitting down?


President Obama called on a... gasp... BLOGGER!!! With his shout-out to Sam Stein of The Huffington Post, the president dared go where no chief executive had ever gone before – he went outside the parameters of "acceptable" media outlets and brought the White House in sync with the 21st Century.


The traditional media outlets, of course, were horrified. How dare Barack Obama elevate one of those icky blogs into the same rarefied air enjoyed by NBC and The Washington Post? And they circled the wagons and buried him in an avalanche of criticism for being so uncouth.


Maybe they were just embarrassed. The Washington Post reporter lobbed President Obama a question on the ever-important issue of steroids in baseball.


Chuck Todd of NBC demonstrated that he's from the John McCain school of economic expertise with a jaw-droppingly ignorant statement in which he blamed our current financial mess on... too much consumer spending?


And way too many of the other reporters spent too much time dwelling on their silly "bipartisanship" fetish, which in Beltway-speak means "The Democrats must accommodate every tantrum thrown by John Boehner."


Meanwhile, Mr. Stein asked the president whether he intended to investigate and potentially prosecute officials in the former administration for lawbreaking. This is an issue that the traditional media almost never touches, because its tendency is to protect established power, not to challenge it.


And while the president, to be honest, gave an unsatisfying politician's answer, what matters is that the question was asked and the subject formally broached.


And that, in a nutshell, is why online media is our future. This is why newspaper readership nationwide is plummeting, and why TV news – especially cable news – is viewed with contempt by an ever-increasing proportion of the American public. This is why the once-venerable publication US News and World Report is going out of business.


Americans want solutions to the economic crisis. The traditional media prefers to talk about octuplets and Michael Phelps' bong. Americans need jobs.


The traditional media talks about the Oval Office dress code. Americans support the stimulus package.


The traditional media pretends they don't. Republicans spout lie after lie about the stimulus package, and cable news outlets repeat and amplify the lies without challenge. It's quite pathetic.


Just about all the in-depth and incisive political analysis today is being done in the blogosphere. The traditional media used to do good investigative reporting – Woodward and Bernstein's research into the Watergate scandal remains one of the greatest accomplishments in American journalism; but that's pretty much fallen by the wayside, as the media's main mission nowadays is to protect the DC cocktail-party establishment. The blogs have stepped into this breach, and have filled the role abdicated by our once-respectable fourth estate.


And now that The Huffington Post is an "official" media outlet in the eyes of the White House, it's probably safe to predict that these trends will continue. But for those Americans who just can't get enough shallow, insipid news coverage and commentary, there's always the Situation Room.


Meanwhile, those of us who want thoughtful analysis with our news will just keep clicking on the online media. And we've got good company in our president.


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