I read this story the other dayand it’s been kicking around in my head since. I can’t decide if I think this is a demonstration of why mainstream media is useless or necessary.

Blogs Provide Raw Details From Scene of the Disaster, from the NY Times

On the one hand, mainstream media outlets will have what, one or a few correspondents in any given nation? I mean, honestly, how many correspondents did CNN have in Sri Lanka, before last Sunday? Most Americans probably didn’t even know where it was until then. But there are potentially hundreds or thousands of bloggers in these places. Now that’s what I call having reporters on the ground. I remember hearing that during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989, students were sending emails from Tiananmen Square, getting real news out there (though I haven’t been able to find any documentation for this). (As an aside, my PhD program littermate Jiangping Chen once told me that she was in Tiananmen Square on the afternoon of the demonstrations, but had to go home for dinner and so missed the tanks. Lucky for her.) Anyway, this is what I’m talking about: people actually on the ground, getting and reporting an actual participant’s view of events of world significance. Now that’s news.

On the other hand, I can’t shake the feeling that this is one more step towards the human interest-izing of the news, which I consider to be a complete corruption of the term “news.” Personally I hold Dick Ebersol largely responsible for this: I understand it was his decision to have basically no coverage of the actual Olympics during NBC’s coverage of the Olympics. When I watch CNN in the morning I don’t give a rat’s ass what the viewing public thinks, I want actual news: you know, some actual coverage of world events. Doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

On the other hand (that’s three now), then I think I’m being to much of an academic snob, valuing only experts (in this case professional reporters) and not the vox populi. It puts me in mind of this totally brilliant passage from The Machine Stops, by EM Forster:

“Beware of first- hand ideas!” exclaimed one of the most advanced of them. “First-hand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by live and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element – direct observation. Do not learn anything about this subject of mine – the French Revolution. Learn instead what I think that Enicharmon thought Urizen thought Gutch thought Ho-Yung thought Chi-Bo-Sing thought LafcadioHearn thought Carlyle thought Mirabeau said about the French Revolution. Through the medium of these ten great minds, the blood that was shed at Paris and the windows that were broken at Versailles will be clarified to an idea which you may employ most profitably in your daily lives. But be sure that the intermediates are many and varied, for in history one authority exists to counteract another. Urizen must counteract the scepticism of Ho-Yung and Enicharmon, I must myself counteract the impetuosity of Gutch. You who listen to me are in a better position to judge about the French Revolution than I am. Your descendants will be even in a better position than you, for they will learn what you think I think, and yet another intermediate will be added to the chain. And in time” – his voice rose – “there will come a generation that had got beyond facts, beyond impressions, a generation absolutely colourless, a generation

seraphically free
From taint of personality,

which will see the French Revolution not as it happened, nor as they would like it to have happened, but as it would have happened, had it taken place in the days of the Machine.”

As it would have happened, had it taken place in the days of the Machine. What is it about filtering that makes us academic types feel more comfortable? News is the new, so why do I care if it’s unfiltered? Heaven knows it’s not like the mainstream media’s filtering makes their coverage any less trivial much of the time. Am I just conditioned to expect news to be delivered in certain packages and written in certain styles? This from the person who’s never had a paper newspaper subscription in his life. (Except for the Chapel Hill News, but that doesn’t count, since it’s delivered by default. Though I looked into getting them to stop delivering it, but they don’t do that.)

As a follow-up to all of this, the BBC then ran these stories: Reporters’ log: Asia disaster for the 29th and the 30th, which seems to be an attempt to get that same rawness and immediacy, but from BBC correspondents. So much for the the mainstream media’s filtering.