Weblogs credited for Lott brouhaha
The Internet is slowly changing the rules of journalism. During the Clinton presidency, Newsweek thought details of an affair with an intern were not pertinent for public consumption, while Matt Drudge and his online Drudge Report thought otherwise. Traditional media outlets shied away from old dirt on an affair by Congressman Henry Hyde, while Salon thought otherwise.
Now incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) praises outgoing Senator Strom Thurmond at his 100th birthday celebration, saying "we wouldn't of had all these problems" if then-segregationist Thurmond had won the presidency in '48 as the Dixiecrat candidate. Most major media outlets ignored the remark but online journalists, especially Webloggers such as Josh Marshall, Andrew Sullivan, and David Frum posted scathing attacks on Lott (with the latter two being conservatives).
As the actual remark took place way back on Dec. 5, we have the luxury of connecting the dots, as one online pundit after the next is horrified by Lott's remark. First is Talkingpointsmemo.com's Josh Marshall, posting the day after the party, along with ABCNews.com's The Note blog. Next comes the Washington Post and a story about the remark buried on page A06. Then comes Andrew Sullivan, followed by National Review Online's David Frum, and the bloggering continues until four Lott apologies later -- and a special vote to come on his future as majority leader.
Now the mainstream media must swallow its pride, follow the Internet on the story, and even give credit where it's due. The Post's Howard Kurtz spends two online Media Notes columns giving praise. Time magazine gave credit to the "hum of Internet bloggers who were posting their outrage and compiling rap sheets of Lott's earlier comments." And John Podhoretz writes in the New York Post that the new medium of blogging is maturing before our eyes (under the screaming headline: "The Internet's First Scalp").
What does it all mean? The squeaming mainstream press might let a story play out online first, and see where it goes. Bloggers can instantly spin a story, and dig online for deeper background. And if the Big Media wavers on something controversial, the Small Media online have the chance to make a big splash. Now if the bloggers could just come up with a way to make money ...
As long as you pay, spoof away!
Here's a sign that online publishers are still desperate for moolah: CBS MarketWatch and the Motley Fool are accepting ads from the Wall Street Journal Online that basically spoof them, according to the New York Times' Nat Ives. Ives says the ads mock free financial sites as being uninformed, simplistic and unreliable. One ad pokes fun of a fake site titled "Biz-o-Rama."
CBS MW honcho Larry Kramer admits to Ives that "it was a little jab, yes," but "we're proud to take their money." The Motley Fool's Ted Ryan, in a bit of denial, thinks of his site as not really being a competitor to the Journal. But one ad exec on the sidelines takes a different view: "They're kind of selling their souls to take ads making fun of their own core offerings." Ouch.
Online publishers have long been open to ads for competing products, with the thought that eventually they would wean themselves from the Net's early "co-opetition" phase. This turn of events means that publishers must still rely on help from the competition, even when it leaves a seriously acidic aftertaste.
"A lot of us probably tuned out remarks that we might have been more careful listening to if it hadn't been such a jubilant atmosphere. Most people were writing this as a featury 100th-birthday bash."
-- Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis tells the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz why the media ignored Trent Lott's comments, which have now become a firestorm in the political world ignited by bloggers. Even the Post's own reporter, Mark Leibovich, told Kurtz he was kicking himself for not picking up on the comment. Or were they all just poor history students?
Mark Glaser currently writes technology features for The New York Times, travel stories for the San Jose Mercury News, and a bi-weekly e-mail newsletter for the Online Publishers Association, whose membership includes most major media companies online. That won't stop him from taking cheap potshots at these outlets, when necessary. You can contact him with any juicy tidbits about online journalism at firstname.lastname@example.org.