Political journalist Joshua Micah Marshall recently asked the readers of his blog, Talking Points Memo, to foot the bill to send him to New Hampshire for ten days to cover the lead up to the Democratic Primary. In less than 24 hours, he raised the nearly $5000 he predicted he would need to support this field work. As he explained to his readers, “All that I need is transportation to Manchester, a room at a mid-range hotel, a rental car to drive around the state, and some money for gas and miscellaneous expenses.”
Early this year, another political blogger, Christopher Albritton, raised more than $10,000 from reader contributions to go to Iraq and offer independent, left of center coverage of the aftermath of the Gulf War. His war coverage makes for compelling reading and offers some important insights not found in mainstream news.
Does this represent an alternative model for journalism – reporters who work for and are accountable to their readers rather than a larger media operation? Maybe, but don’t count on it.
In both cases, these guys were already professional journalists who have at various points in their careers enjoyed access to mainstream media channels. In both cases, the money covered their expenses but neither is trying to make their livelihood off the whims of the public. In both cases, while we can expect alternative perspectives, the stories being covered would be in the mainstream news anyway. This would get really interesting if the public could use it to insist on covering issues that the mainstream media was ignoring altogether, if publics who are really underserved by traditional media could pool their resources to make sure that their perspectives and experiences get quality coverage.
On other fronts, bloggers are following the story of Gregg Easterbrook who has been fired from ESPN.Com for some rather intemperate comments he made on his blog, Monday Morning Quaterback. No one seems certain whether he was fired because the comments were anti-semitic or because they were anti-Disney. Disney owns ESPN.Com and certainly would have a stake in discouraging its employees from making either kind of statement in public. If the first, the parallels to the Rush Limbaugh case are clear here but the key difference is Limbaugh made the comments on the air and Easterbrook made the comments on the internet in a site only loosely affiliated with his employer. If the second, the case certainly points to the limits of the free speech and unofficial commentary which some see as the highest virtue of blogging. In either case, we should keep in mind that what you write in cyberspace does have an impact in the real world and isn’t necessarily going to be free of real world
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