Tony Blankley is the editor of the editorial page of the Washington Times, which has done an admirable job for decades as a conservative alternative to the Washington Post. Indeed, prior to the launch of talk radio, Fox News, dozens of conservative and libertarian Websites, and now the endlessly diversified Blogosphere, it was one of the few reliably conservative sources of news in America. Prior to editing the Times, Blankley served as Newt Gingrich’s press secretary for seven years, including during the height of the 1994-1995 “Contract With America” phase as a Republican Congress assumed power after 40 years in the wilderness.
In other words, Blankley is a smart guy who knows his way around Washington, and the media–or at least the “legacy media”. His latest opinion piece compares gossip-oriented bloggers (he singles out Wonkette by name) with veteran big media gossiper Liz Smith. If I’m reading it correctly, and it’s not an April fools’ joke, Blankley doesn’t appear to really know his way around the Blogosphere, and seems to conflate the rise of Liz’s newest competitors, which he refers to as “digital rumor blogs”, with the Blogosphere as a whole.
In spite of all that, at the end of his essay, Blankley makes a great point about his own industry:
The impending death of the paper-printed rumor business should be a warning to the news divisions of those papers. While the newspaper’s rumor department is at a competitive disadvantage with the digital rumor blogs, the news departments actually have some advantages — if they choose to use them. Hundreds of trained reporters and editors, if they are committed to objective news gathering, can actually produce more usable, objective news each day than even the most hard-working blogger. But if they print rumor and prejudice masquerading as news, they will surely go the way of their official, certified rumor departments.
That’s fair enough–and as I’ve repeatedly written (as have numerous others in the Blogosphere), the one thing that newspapers have going for them over bloggers is the ability to put lots of reporters in the field, both massed to cover a single important story, and spread out to report lots of stories.
But they no longer have a monopoly on opinion and fact-checking. Surely somebody who’s an editor on a paper that now sees lots of similar voices where it was once a lonely exception in an otherwise near-monolithic media can see the benefit of that–and understand who’s doing a solid job of proffering fact checking and opinion, and who’s merely providing gossip.