13 October 2005

Blogs vs. Media Giants?

Boy, am I hungry. I could eat a cow. Good thing, too, as I don't know any butchers in the area. Lots of ranchers, no butchers. No choice but to go hit up one of my rancher friends, walk a cow home, and eat the whole thing. But before I do, let me tell you about something I saw.

I saw an article at NewsBusters in which New York Times executive editor Bill Keller said, "Most of what you know, you know because of the mainstream media. Bloggers recycle and chew on the news. That's not bad. But it's not enough."

Well, of course his comments did not please me, but the fact is that he is right. I can count actual reporting bloggers I am even familiar with on one hand, and the only one I can name is Michael Yon.

So what is this blog nonsense, anyway? Just today, I found myself explaining to yet another co-worker that he probably already reads blogs, he just doesn't know it. He thinks they're just web pages, and to him, that is all they are. I tried to describe the filtering hierarchy which the blogosphere evolves as its chosen architecture. I failed. Again. But in reading Mr. Keller's comments, I realized where blogs fit in--as a "front-end".

Let's slide on into software terms here, but gently. This description may not be anatomically correct, but it puts most of the parts in the right places. A program you run can be considered to have many parts. The part you see is the user interface (UI). Behind that is the guts, and behind that is the back-end, which deals with program-to-machine issues, and communications with other computers. The guts section contains the actual "I'm-doing-what-you-want-me-to-do" program, such as a database which stores (and more importantly, retrieves) phone numbers and addresses. And trapped between the guts and the UI may be a front-end. The UI may in fact be a part of the front-end, but not necessarily.

If you have used Microsoft's Access for your database needs, you have actually used an optional front-end. Access is NOT a database program--it is a front-end to the Microsoft JET database engine. If you had to deal with JET, you would swear you were using DOS. In fact, it would be SQL or something similiar (suspiciously similar...). So Microsoft came up with Access to keep those hands of yours and mine free of the dirty litle details of databases. Instead, we point and click and still wind up typing a lot. The front-end "fits onto the front" of the database engine so we only have to deal with shiny mousables and gridded tables. Of course, there are other front-ends, and this is where we come back to blogs.

The mainstream media is the News Engine. They make lots of money and have lots of people and equipment stationed across the globe and they go out and get lots of news. Then they put it on their own private networks and charge advertisers a fortune to be squeezed in between bits of this hard-won news. The network news programs have their own profit and loss responsibilities, and they try to attract more viewers, so they can charge the advertisers more, and they do this by taking all that valuable information and reducing it to something easy to feed to we invalids.

What blogs have changed is the front-end of the news. We are no longer forced to deal directly with CBS or CNN and their patronizing gruel-casts any more than we still have to deal with MS-DOS. The Internet has evolved an open source front-end for the MSM's News Engine.

Keller is right. We need the legacy media and their awesome resources to provide the raw material of news to the blogosphere. But you don't ask ranchers for beef; you ask butchers for beef, and if your butcher keeps trimming it his way instead of your way, you go find a different butcher.

We no longer need the MSM to study, analyse, antagonize over everything and then tell us what to think--we have developed our own front-end; it is customizable and verifiable, we fact-check it and each other, and it's here to stay.

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