Breaking News: Earthquake hits, media sinks

Media | Language/Structure
From the department of “Breaking News”:

Still, are there things the bloggers do better than regular journalists? MetaFilter did “beat” by some minutes the initial AP report that there had been an earthquake. (And even press criticism seems to travel faster online — it took just six minutes from the event for MetaFilter contributors to start dissing the press and less than 20 minutes for the earthquake to inspire a disaster prophecy for the media in general.)

That’s Rob Walker, writing in Slate, March 7, 2001. The disaster prophecy that he’s referring to? Compared to what we’re hearing today, it’s a mild tremor:

Filter scoops national News TV and Web sites. I wonder what combining “opensource” trends & users all over the world can do to the news business?

If you haven’t caught on yet, this earthquake in question was one that hit Seattle almost four years ago. Thankfully, Seattle is still there, as is the media. (“But barely!” chimes the blogosphere.)

For the media, 2005 is shaping up like 2004: pundits playing politics while accusing others of doing just that. Robert Cox racks his brains at the National Debate to find ten people Playing Politcs with Tsunami Disaster— and can only seem to find liberals and internationalists. I’m not the president of the Media Bloggers Association, and I was still able to review the reactions of twenty-five pundits, and found the same range of reactions on both sides, from genuine compassion to partisan sniping. I thought it was dispicable enough for a friend of mine to seek the Democratic political angle that we became ex-friends.

Jim Geraghty, who just the previous day defended liberal bloggers against Kevin McCollough’s charge that they didn’t jump headfirst into tsunami coveragee, now channels McCollough’s redaction:

McCullough’s follow-up does illustrate a clear, and noteworthy point: If there is an anti-Bush angle to a particular story, then many in the media and on the left side of the blogosphere will pick it up and discuss it at length. If there is a huge story, like the tsunami, that does not have a clear anti-Bush angle… well, it just won’t attract the same attention [as stories that do.]

Then again, if there’s an anti-U.N. angle to be had, I can produce a “top ten” list of commentators who are going to jump on that…

Here’s the only thing one can reasonable conclude: bloggers feel that the other side should be limited to reporting just the facts, while they themselves are free to take partisan swings, and it’s this healthy mix which will replace the media commentariat.

One more follow-up, on WorldChanging’s coverage of the blogosphere’s reaction to the tsunami. Reacting my charge that they were engaging in blog triumphalism, Jamais retreated slightly: “I think the hands-down best work came at Wikipedia, so I’m more inclined to ‘wiki triumphalism’.”

Update, January 11th: Rebecca MacKinnon of the Berkman Center also claims victory, here Personal Democracy Forum and also on the Blogging, Journalism, and Credibility conference blog. I would say that it’s incredible, given that most of the blog triumphalism can trace itself back to being invented by a few bloggers, two days after the tragedy struck. Part of my response on the PDF website was this: The only thing I’ll add to my research was that nothing in print (whether newspapers or blogs) moved me as much as John Irvine’s report filed for ITV about the devestation in Banda Aceh– which I saw on Countdown [with Keith Olbermann].
The original headline for this read “Eathquake”. Must have been in a hurry to get this out.

Update, May 31st: The “ex-friend” and I are now on speaking terms again.