The Mashup

From the Editor

You won't find much disagreement in the alternative press that mainstream journalism has serious problems that have led to its public estimation ranking down there somewhere with Shrub's. Among our chief complaints: Like the White House press corps, rank-and-file writers trade in their critical voice for access, and the dailies often appear to protect private-sector sacred cows as well. The San Antonio Express-News didn't have much to say about the ethics charges against Tom DeLay until he resigned; the paper's relative silence on local economic giant AT&T's alleged domestic spying has also been deafening, and you can't make a decent birdcage-floor liner with their critical coverage of the company's latest mega-merger.

The blogosphere, meanwhile, has taken pains to group altweeklies with the dailies - perhaps not entirely unfair now that so many of them are owned by the much-loathed New Times, or like the Current, by a distant parent company. Some of this posturing is foundation myth: blogging was born to save journalism from its laziness and excess. Bloggers are bold and not beholden to the establishment, we've been told (and it's sometimes been demonstrated).

Yet, before it's even out of its infancy, the blogosphere is wrestling with the kind of corruption that only a few years ago was imputed strictly to newsprint. One of the latest headlines comes from MediaPost, which reported yesterday morning that prominent tech bloggers are coming under fire for accepting free Acer Ferrari laptops from Microsoft. "Some of the bloggers, including author `Brandon` LeBlanc, initially didn't disclose the laptop was a gift," wrote MediaPost. "Rather, he said he had 'traded in' his old computer for the new Ferrari."

Some of the blogging revolution's greatest power comes from community policing - readers can cry foul and shame writers into reform. But is that enough? If LeBlanc had pulled the same stunt at a print paper, there's a good chance he'd now be pounding the virtual pavement, looking for a new gig. The Seattle Stranger recently accepted the resignation of its popular music editor after it was discovered that he had let the Club Advertising Coordinator write about clubs and bands for the paper incognito. The sub-rosa writer had not reviewed any clients, but it's the principle that matters.

Readers can look forward to more Acergate-style revelations in the New Year. In December the blog-job clearinghouse PayPerPost began requiring its bloggers to disclose their professional relationships - previously, bloggers who accepted payment through the site to write about clients' products were free to do so on an honor system. To be fair, the blogosphere has been pretty hostile to PayPerPost, with most critics calling for transparency.

The lack of transparency - willful obfuscation, actually - was the issue in both LeBlanc's and the Stranger's transgression (The Current, like many media outlets, receives products for review, with the clear understanding that they may not be reviewed favorably or at all). But transparency may not be enough when it comes to politics and news. Last January the public was justifiably outraged to learn that conservative columnist Armstrong Williams had been paid by the Department of Education to rave about Bush's No Child Left Behind program. In March, in a smaller arena, the Kansas City Pitch Weekly took a local reporter to task for working on the side as a campaign advisor - for a candidate whom the reporter had covered.

This problem, too, isn't confined to print. On December 3, The New York Times published an Op-Chart titled "New on the web: politics as usual" that detailed a list of bloggers left and right who were hired as campaign consultants. "Few of these bloggers shut down their 'independent' sites after signing on with campaigns," noted the introduction, "and while most disclosed their campaign ties on their blogs, some - like Patrick Hynes of Ankle Biting Pundits - did so only after being criticized by fellow bloggers."

Notably, there has been little outcry about this type of partisan coverage in the blogosphere; it's considered part of the revolution by some influential bloggers - perhaps because most people, revolutionaries or not, dream of getting paid to do what they love, which requires someone to foot the bill - whether it's advertisers, readers, or campaign managers. This is the foundation of journalism that media, traditional and new, have to address - citizen journalism will only take us so far. Seymour Hersh, after all, is a pro.

The Current, by the way, operates under the advertising-revenue model - which, when it works as it should (our advertisers don't know what we're writing about till the paper comes out, and sales don't determine our coverage) is still a viable model. And while we often wear our liberal hearts on our sleeves, we promise not to let any of our writers or editors work for anyone's political campaign.



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