Journalists Lament Bloggers' Ability to Fight Back

New York Times reporter Katharine Seelye reports that the old saying, "Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel," is no longer valid.

For decades, subjects of news stories who felt they were mistreated "were unlikely to take on reporters or publishers, believing that the power of the press gave the press the final word."

But now things have changed.

Subjects of newspaper articles and news broadcasts now fight back with the same methods reporters use to generate articles and broadcasts - taping interviews, gathering e-mail exchanges, taking notes on phone conversations - and publish them on their own Web sites. This new weapon in the media wars is shifting the center of gravity in the way that news is gathered and presented, and it carries implications for the future of journalism.

Most journalists don't like the new empowerment of average citizens.

All these developments have forced journalists to respond in a variety of ways, including becoming more open about their methods and techniques and perhaps more conscious of how they filter information.

"To the extent that you know there's someone monitoring every word, it probably compels you to be even more careful, which is a good thing," said Chris Bury, the "Nightline" correspondent whose interview was published by the Discovery Institute. "But readers and viewers need to realize that one interview is only one part of the story, that there are other interviews and other research and that this is just a sliver of what goes into a complete report."

CNN Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre said that with all the material out there, it's the media's job to "tell you what it means."

"With the Internet, with blogs, with text messages, with soldiers writing their own accounts from the front lines, so many people are trying to shape things into their own reality," he said. "I don't worry so much anymore about finding out every little detail five minutes before someone else. It's more important that we take that information and tell you what it means."

This is an admission that a reporter's job is the same as that of an op-ed writer, to tell you what facts are significant and meaningful and what facts should be ignored or played down. In the case of liberal op-ed writers and liberal journalists, the information to be played down is the conservative point of view.

Most journalists are unhappy with the new dynamics.

While some say they are learning to accept the new interactivity, they also worry that the view of many bloggers - that reporters should post their raw material because they are filtering it through their own biases - ignores the value of traditional journalistic functions, like casting a wide net for information, coaxing it out of reluctant sources, condensing it and presenting it in an orderly way.