Democracy, traditional news media benefit from bloggers

The Daily Oakland Press gets it:

Though the mainline media paid little attention, an uproar about a CBS television claim signals a change in the news business all consumers should be aware of.

Longtime nightly news anchorman and sometime “60 Minutes” presenter Dan Rather told viewers about 10 days ago that newly discovered Air National Guard memos prove President Bush was far from a perfect member.

They indicated he had ignored orders and not done his duty some 32 years ago.

In the past, a revelation of that nature by CBS News would have been accepted as fact by just about everyone but Bush and his partisans.

Not only did such major media members have good reputations for soundness, but there was no timely or affordable way for skeptics to investigate and challenge their reports.

But now, there is, and it’s called the “blogosphere.” Literally millions of Americans maintain personal Web logs, which available for perusing by anyone with access to the Internet.

Probably more than 95 percent of them are personal indulgences of no interest outside the blogger’s circle and plenty are tasteless and ignorant. But the traditional media had better look out for the rest.

Rather’s report on Bush scarcely was off the air when blogger-viewers who happened to know something about authenticating such documents went to work. They found the likelihood of their being authentic to be somewhere between slim and none.

The process of producing that conclusion was fascinating to watch. It was a marketplace of information and insight, as dozens of bloggers put their findings online. There they were challenged and rebutted or supported.

The case against authenticity went from suspicion to virtually airtight proof in a couple of days. Who knows how many informed man-hours were devoted to the task – all for no pay.

The lesson for the major media both at the national and local levels is that carelessness and deliberate distortion are apt to be found out. That really wasn’t the case before, unless the misdeeds were incredibly obvious.