Call it what you will. . .
Up until now, those column inches were doled out according to the level of priority given to "the story" by often faceless entities with many considerations to take into account -- not all of which were for the edification of the consumer. Today, the consumer has his own priorities and virtually unlimited space to dedicate to them. In a world fueled by information, the MSM is Standard Oil and it's looking out the window of its corner office at a landscape where every household has a gusher in the back yard. And, suddenly, that mahogany table in the boardroom seems like a rather foolish investment.
That's not to say that this revolution comes without cost. There's a price to pay in terms of the sense of security that comes from knowing exactly where your information is coming from, and who to hold accountable when that information turns out to be untrue or incomplete. Consequently, the masthead of the blogosphere reads "Caveat Emptor". But, any sense of security that people find in the corporeal nature of the old media is a false one, and that's been amply demonstrated by the events of the past year. Dan Rather now stands as a symbol of that false security, having confirmed everything his detractors have said about him since before there was a new media to give them a voice.
In the proverbial marketplace of ideas, the establishment media is a shopping mall of plate glass, chrome, escalators, food courts and a few closed shops. The blogosphere is an open-air market with lots of little treasures to be found, but you'd better be sharp-eyed and have a good sense of what to look for in both product and vendor. Because, if you buy a fake Rolex, odds are the person who sold it to you will be across the state line before the second hand stops moving.
And, don't put it past the establishment media to assume the role of the shifty vendor. There are literally billions of dollars at stake in the information business, and Rockefellers don't willingly stop being Rockefellers just because it would be better for everyone else if they did. There will be conspiracies, sabotage, and subterfuge as the barons sense the fading of their power. Stories will be planted and hoaxes will be perpetrated in order to undermine the steady encroachment of the new media into the territory of the old. How successful these attempts will be remains to be seen, but the sheer numbers involved in fact-checking, and virtually unlimited access to the facts as a resource lead me to believe that any success will be short-lived and relatively limited in scope. They might pick off one or two who latch onto a story with flimsy evidence and a high titillation factor, but the savvy of the new media and the natural skepticism that brought it into being will eventually win out. The whole reason for the new media's existence is that its contributors are tired of being had.
That's not to say that there aren't elements among the new media who will leap at the chance to claim a scalp. In that regard, the blogosphere is just as susceptible to "gotcha" journalism as its old media counterpart. A cross section of both entities would reveal pretty similar composition, I suppose -- with distinctions being found mostly in matters of style, temperament and ideology. Bloggers are free to write what they want in whatever language they deem suitable because they're busy building their own audiences, rather than trying to find a niche within the pre-established audiences of mainstream media outlets. They aren't tethered to any editorial mission other than that which they set for themselves. They aren't beholden the twin Damoclean swords of ad revenue and subscription rates when deciding what news is fit to print. Bloggers answer to their readers and their own consciences.
The so-called blogswarm that has so many members of the old guard feeling defensive these days is at least partly real. I find it hard to believe that any right-leaning blogger wouldn't relish the opportunity to drive Peter Jennings out of the news business, or that any left-leaning one would pass on the opportunity to bring down Fox News Channel. But, to dismiss the entire exercise as nothing more than the pursuit of knaves and ne'er-do-wells is the product of old line thinking and a self-serving victim mentality. And to label the bloggers as a gaggle of "salivating morons" strikes me as analogous to a defiant aristocrat demanding that a peasant remove his filthy paws from his finery as he is being led to the gallows.
By all means, call it what you will -- a witch hunt, a jihad, an inquisition, or a beer hall putsch. But, what it is is a reckoning.