TCS Daily

Why the Press Got It Wrong

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds - February 1, 2005 12:00 AM

For some time, I've been predicting that the blogosphere would move more and more from punditry to newsgathering and reporting, in competition with (or at least in supplementation of) the traditional media. And that's been happening. We saw it with tsunami coverage, and now we're seeing it with reporting on the Iraqi elections.

Some of this was pre-arranged. The Iraqi-American nonprofit partnership, Friends of Democracy, set up a central weblog collecting reports from correspondents all over Iraq. There were audio and text reports, with photos, from many different locations, producing an effect something like a news wire staffed by avid amateurs. (There was also a live C-SPAN appearance that was webcast; you can see it here).

Meanwhile, un-aggregated individual bloggers were doing the same thing. Some were Americans in Iraq: The blog Cigars in the Sand, run by an American lawyer in Baghdad, posted numerous photos of Iraqis voting. Another blog, I Should Have Stayed Home, published both illustrated reports and interviews.

But the real news was the Iraqi bloggers. Iraqi blog Iraq the Model reported:

        "I walked forward to my station, cast my vote and then headed to the 
        box, where I wanted to stand as long as I could, then I moved to mark my 
        finger with ink, I dipped it deep as if I was poking the eyes of all the 
        world's tyrants.

        "I put the paper in the box and with it, there were tears that I couldn't 
        hold; I was trembling with joy and I felt like I wanted to hug the box but 
        the supervisor smiled at me and said "brother, would you please move ahead, 
        the people are waiting for their turn".

Rose, a civil engineer and mother, blogged: "YES,YES, I did it. I have the courage to do it." So much for the terrorists' threats. She also posted a photo of her ink-stained finger.

Meanwhile, Iraqi blogger Zeyad reported from Amman, Jordan, that interest in democracy seems to be spreading:

        "The turnout in Iraq was really like nothing that I had expected. I was glued 
        in front of tv for most of the day. My mother was in tears watching 
        the scenes from all over the country. Iraqis had voted for peace and for a 
        better future, despite the surrounding madness. I sincerely hope this small 
        step would be the start of much bolder ones, and that the minority 
        which insists on enslaving the majority of Iraqis would soon realise that all 
        that they have accomplished till now is in vain.

        "Another surprise was to see some Iraqis who had fled the country in 
        fear of reprisals, such as the families of ex-regime figures and ex-Ba'athists, 
        actually voting and encouraging others to vote! I know some of those from 
        school and college and I imagined they would be bitter about the whole 
        process, but many were not.

        "Jordanians were wishing Iraqis luck these few days everywhere on the 
        streets. One young man at a mall, on recognising my Iraqi accent, asked me 
        who I would be voting for. I politely told him that I would vote for who I 
        believe is sincere. Strangely, he said that he personally preferred Allawi and 
        hoped most Iraqis would be voting for him. I wished his country luck as 
        well since the King had promised direct elections for municipal councils as 
        a first step. He dismissed that as nothing much and said that 'One should 
        start from the 'Head' down, not the other way around'."

That's the idea. And the growth of the Internet means that it's likely to spread faster than it would otherwise. That's a good thing, because Mark Steyn thinks -- and I agree -- that the traditional media's reporting on Iraq was seriously flawed:

        "The Western press are all holed up in the same part of Baghdad, and the 
        insurgents very conveniently set off bombs visible from their hotel windows 
        in perfect synchronization with the U.S. TV news cycle"

Indeed it was, and it colored the press coverage. Yeah, there were terrorist attacks. But you could tell -- and some of us did tell -- from reading Iraqi blogs that this wasn't the whole picture, something that's been true since the invasion two years ago. The good news is that Big Media coverage of the elections seemed a bit less disdainful, and a bit more accurate, than many of us expected. Is it because they know they're being watched?

I hope so. Because there's only going to be more of that. As Ed Cone writes:

        "In the final book of 'The Chronicles of Narnia,' there is a description 
        of a building that is bigger inside than it is outside. That's how I see 
        traditional journalism in the age of the Internet. . . . This idea that there 
        is more knowledge outside the newsroom than in it, that as writer Dan Gillmor 
        puts it, 'my readers know more than I do,' is of course the point of 
        bothering to report stories in the first place. What's new is the ability of 
        individuals to publish their own words, as well as audio and video, cheaply 
        and easily on the Web. Experts and eyewitnesses are no longer consigned 
        to audience status. They don't have to wait to be interviewed by professionals 
        but can push information out at their own discretion."

That's absolutely right. It's the end of the old media world as we knew it. And I feel fine.


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