Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Blogging For The News

We were reminded last night while we so rarely watch local TV news.

The three leading newscasts in Memphis reported on the City Council endorsements and fundraising by longtime Democratic activist Karl Schledwitz as if it was real news.

To us, it sounds like something we need more of - involved citizens - and it’s what groups all over Memphis are doing right now – some organized, some informal and some ad hoc. It’s precisely what makes democracy work.

Reality TV

And yet, local TV reporters were treating as if it were a “real” news story, and all because they were following up yesterday’s post by Memphis blogger Thaddeus Matthews as if there was any journalistic justification for their coverage.

We’ve known Mr. Matthews for several years and consider him a friend. His blog appears to be extremely popular, and his hubris and hyperbole make for posts like nothing else in this city. Often, he seems to connect dots that aren’t visible to mortal man and to exorcise political demons in outlandish (if not occasionally libelous) assertions.

Sometimes, the posts are so outrageous that there’s the inescapable feeling that Mr. Matthews’ tongue is planted firmly in his cheek and that it’s offered more in the name of entertainment than information.

Blogging 101

We certainly defend Mr. Matthews’ First Amendment right to express his opinions, but the notion that most blog posts meet the basic standards for journalism or that their authors are spokespersons for a constituency feels more like the result of news laziness than anything else.

So, a blogger thinks that Mr. Schledwitz is part of a vast white-wing conspiracy of powerful Memphians trying to “take over” City Council in a diabolically overt display of ah, well, American democracy. Does the fact that a blogger opined on it make it news? What precisely is the “news peg” in this story? And if it’s somehow news, what about the other political activists who are doing the same? Why does this one merit such special attention?

To us, it’s simply an indictment of how far journalism has fallen. It’s just hard for us to understand how this particular conspiracy theory – among all of the dozens circulating in Memphis every day – possessed enough gravitas to make it fodder for the evening newscasts.

It’s Not Journalism

It reminds me of a panel discussion a few weeks ago sponsored by Main Street Journal about the impact of blogging, and there was consensus that none of us are acting as reporters. At best, we are columnists sharing our commentaries with the public, and although blogs give off the appearance of being authoritative, they should be approached with the same degree of wariness reserved for Wikipedia.

But, back to the criticism of Mr. Schledwitz, we totally share his belief that we need Council members who “do not depend on politics for a living, are fair-minded, are open to doing things differently, will not let race dominate decisions, will challenge the status quo and will act as agents for change.” In fact, we think that an overwhelming majority of Memphians would sign on to this manifesto right now.

In addition, Mr. Schledwitz says he’s supporting candidates who are “independent, moderate, responsible, unifying and committed to a spirit of community.” We say “amen.”

“Taking Over” City Council’s Nine Vacancies

Specifically, Mr. Schledwitz – longtime activist, strategist to innumerable candidates, and confidante to many elected officials, notably U.S. Senator Jim Sasser, a relationship that resulted in the pandas coming to the Memphis Zoo – endorsed six candidates, one white and five African-Americans. And anyone remotely familiar with Mr. Schledwitz’s political history knows that he was supporting and funding campaigns for African-Americans long before anyone else in the white community.

And like he has done for decades, he always puts his money where his mouth is – contributing and raising funds for campaigns. If this somehow is the stuff of political skullduggery, we need more of it.

The headline for the blog in question calls this “a plot to take over City Council.” Of course, when we do it, it’s called reform, but in truth, isn’t this what all of us who are politically active are trying to do? And if this is a spurious attempt to take over City Council, what about the efforts by political parties, New Path, AFL-CIO, the police union, Coalition for a Better Memphis, The Commercial Appeal and so many other highly-respected organizations?

More Fire Than Light

One of the virtues of blogging is the ability to assert our own interpretation of a situation, and unlike reporters, we’re not held to any generally accepted standards of behavior. That’s why so often, many bloggers end up being the written equivalent of talk radio. While it may be interesting to tap into the angst found in Memphis, we’re more drawn to proposed solutions to challenges than rants (even when we agree with them).

And because every one is entitled to their own version of the facts, we offer ours:

* There has been no presentation of the Schledwitz proposal to Memphis Tomorrow nor is Memphis Tomorrow funding it.

* Memphis Tomorrow’s purpose is not to select who’s elected to office. In fact, the CEO-led organization doesn’t make – and has never made - political endorsements or contributions.

* New Path, an admirable and respected group of reform-minded young leaders, did not prepare nor has it endorsed the Schledwitz proposal.

* David Upton did not prepare the proposal nor is he involved in its execution.

* J.R. (Pitt) Hyde III was not involved in the development of the proposal and has played no role in its execution.

Signing On

If Mr. Matthews’ blog accomplished anything, it led us to look closely at the proposal by Mr. Schledwitz, and in so doing, we are persuaded by the philosophy of government that he espouses and hard-pressed to disagree with his endorsed slate of candidates.

Most of all, at a time when so many of us are frustrated by the tenor of City Council meetings and the quality of its decisions, Mr. Schledwitz is willing to work to improve our city’s government and is willing to work to make it happen. We need more of it, not less.

Now that would really be news.


gatesofmemphis said...

Everything we read, hear, or see should be approached with the same degree of wariness reserved for Wikipedia. Giving permanent, unquestioned authority to any institution or individual always gets us in trouble.

Anonymous said...

Amen to that!

Anonymous said...

This is in a word, unbelievable. How did our media get this bad in Memphis?

Anonymous said...

Having made a contribution to one of these six candidates, I guess I am now part of the "white power elite," mom will be happy; and I am also part of this "diabolical conspiracy," don't tell my wife, she likes me.

Anonymous said...

This place is getting too hard to live in for me. If we're not even supposed to have an opinion on elections, what's left for us here?

Anonymous said...

"what's left for us here?"

Answer: nothing. You're just a hater. In the paraphrased words of our current (and future) mayor, if you don't like it, leave. Thousands are taking his advice every year.

Anonymous said...

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