Maybe these are the best days for journalism

One night last week I was having dinner in a Jacksonville, Fla., restaurant. At the table next to me, a Joe the Plumber clone was ranting about how terrible and biased the media had been during the campaign. And I'll confess I had an urge to whack his neatly shaved ditto head.

What's the matter with you? Has your brain gone soft? You have access today to the biggest and the broadest set of media choices in human history. You have it way better than you deserve, you knuckle-dragging skinhead. Kwitcherbitchin and enjoy it ... while it lasts.

I didn't, of course. But it was in that moment that I realized how thoroughly we in "the media" also have suffered our own brains gone soft.

In all the whining about the End of the World as We Know It -- as newspapers throw employees overboard in a desperate attempt to stay afloat -- we've missed the bigger story: the landscape is broader, deeper, richer, better than it's ever been at any time in human history.

I'm not in an overoptimistic manic phase here. In fact, I don't think it's going to last.

It's just that right here, right now, we have an extraordinary combination of centralized industrial-scale, professional, "objective" journalism and decentralized small-scale "advocacy" journalism. We have the 20th century media overlaid by a rich chaos last seen in the 19th century, kicked into hyperdrive by 21st century technology.

In following the presidential campaign, I found my own media consumption patterns changing. I very rarely look at print. I watched a lot of MSNBC and CNN, of course, wincing at times at the partisan excesses of Keith Olbermann and changing the station to avoid the racist anti-immigrant rants of Lou Dobbs.

But most of my information came from the Internet; TV was just infotainment retelling what I already knew.

And much to my surprise, a great deal of the information came not from the websites of industrial-scale journalism but from small-scale startups and advocates.

One such source was Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo, which earlier this year won a George Polk Award for legal reporting as it exposed the Bush administration's politically motivated dismissals of U.S. attorneys.

Another was Ariana Huffington's "Internet newspaper," the Huffington Post, which serves up a stew of bloggers and links to media sites.

The "netroots" megasite Daily Kos, perhaps the largest nexus of "progressive" activism, proved to be a rich source of not just opinion but hard information, particularly in the commissioning and analysis of polling data and in the tracking of "downticket" races in individual states.

The list wouldn't be complete without mentioning, which generally combines the traditional "objective reporting" journalism model with the new-media toolkit, including an impressive array of bloggers.

Then there's numbers wonk Nate Silver's, which not only proved to be a great source of analysis of poll data but also exposed the utter collapse of the Republican ground game as it visited local campaign offices across the country, finding "Closed" signs and empty chairs in the McCain offices.

(I tried looking at right-wing websites as well, but generally found them to be a poor source of information and sadly overrun by angry racist crackpots, which probably was a reflection of the intellectual collapse of the Republican Party that will be analyzed mercilessly during coming months.)

All of this coexists, for the moment, with free access to every major newspaper in the world just one click away.

And free access to the BBC's fine level-headed journalism (on cable TV as well as online), including its groundbreaking reporting on the Georgian brutality against Russian minorities in Ossetia that somehow was ignored by pretty much everybody else (and denied by McCain's Georgia-lobbyist foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann).

Need I go on about this embarrassment of riches?

It's not going to last, of course, and if you're in the mood for hand-wringing, go right ahead. We will see the collapse of some traditional media companies in coming years. We will some some newspapers disappear. We will see many more job losses. Much more change is coming.

But keep an eye on the undiscovered country, and enjoy what you have now. While it lasts.


"You have it way better than you deserve, you knuckle-dragging skinhead. Kwitcherbitchin and enjoy it ... while it lasts. " You couldn't have done a better job of making his point for him if you'd tried.

There's more to the right than the right wing, Steve. And there's a wealth of great sites on the conservative/libertarian side. First Principles Journal The American Conservative Rod Dreher's Crunchy Con blog And with writers like Bill Kauffman out there, there are certainly alternative intellectual voices that are right leaning. FreeRepublic does not represent the sum total the right side, just as the extreme left-wing of DailyKos represent not all that is on the left.

I'll take Howard's recommendations and spend some time on those sites. They should be particularly interesting as the Republican party tries to figure out what just happened. When I lived in Minnesota, I was a strong supporter of Gov. Arne Carlson and friends with key members of his administration. I watched with dismay as the Independent-Republican Party was taken over by nut jobs and religious extremists, part of a nationwide process that eventually led to the massive incompetence and destructiveness of the George W. Bush administration. I don't have a great deal of hope for a swift rebuilding of the Republican Party. The house was burned, but not to the ground, leaving a real mess. Reasonable people have been driven away by the crazed ones shouting "terrorist,' "socialist," "treason" and "kill him" at Palin rallies. As for Joe's comment ... BS. There is no equivalency. Knuckle-dragging racist skinheads are not at one end of a political spectrum opposite some imaginary evil liberal media (of which I am presumed to be a representative). Their hatred of "libs" and "the media" is lodged in a point of view that demands utter conformity with their knuckle-dragging racist skinhead prejudices including hatred of blacks, brown-skinned immigrants, and now all Muslims -- nothing more, nothing less. Knuckle-dragging racist skinheads are, in their intolerance and closed-mindedness, very much like other absolutist nut cases such as the Wahabbists and the Taliban. They hate the open table.

Steve, I've recommended to you before the books of Bill Kauffman. Of particular interest might be Ain't My America, and Look Homeward, America. Of course, of a bit of the localist philosophy, Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette is great. Bill would not call himself a conservative, though he has been called (or called himself) everything from paleoconservative, libertarian, reactionary, anarchist and placist. I've heard you before speak affectionately of Arne Carlson, which why I think you might like Kauffman. There is but a shadow of a movement lurking somewhere under the surface that might be called Old Right, which I perceive Carlson might fit, but might best be exemplified by the late Sen. Robert A. Taft. That brand of conservative slowly faded away in the 1960s. If you really want to better understand the roots of the Old Right, Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind would be required reading. There is a brand of Kirk/Taft conservative thinking out there -- just not much seen, and no where part of the Republic party at the moment and nearly totally ignored by the media. The Old Right conservatives did, however, make up a portion of the Ron Paul support and could be found at the Rally for the Republic. And when you're looking the future of the GOP, don't count out Paul's wing of the party. I've heard -- but have not confirmed -- that there is a sort of liberty caucus within the House GOP. They were the primary opposition to the bailout bills and couldn't be moved by Pelosi or Bush.

During the election and in its aftermath, I have had to moderate several comments placed on our news Web site (of a medium-sized multimedia company located in a Republican stronghold area) from readers urging voters to do "independent research" rather than trusting the mainstream media to tell them everything they really need to know about candidates. But they never mean any of the varied journalism sites mentioned here. They mean the latest nutjub blogger who isn't associated with anyone more reliable than the grandmother who screams down the basement steps, "Will you get off that damned computer and come get your supper!?" Or they mean that viral e-mail passing around the same ignorant rumors over and over. Research, right. They don't really mean an advocacy start-up site, or receiving reports from anyone who has had any real, meaningful conversation with people who have witnessed the events in question. When did semantics go so awry? When did people start confusing "research" with "conjecture"? When did "independent" become a buzzword for something clearly biased? Can people really not tell the difference between hard information and opinion when they are presented on the same site? Is the juxtaposition too complicated?

Steve - I am reading this at the API Summit on an industry in crisis. Just discussing how we used to own news franchise in our communities. I am the only one blogging from the Summit, at We all agree that there are significant structural issues in our industry. I think the most important is the open distribution of news and information. The great opportunity is creating the structure for meaningful, relevant information out of all that content. Chuck