Earlier this week Julie Moos on Poynter Online addressed the potential for newspapers to better utilize blogs as a way to provide more depth of knowledge to their readers and a greater degree of ideological diversity in their coverage. Excerpt:
Are there people of a particular faith (Jewish, Baptist, Catholic, other) who feel ignored? What if media organizations gave them blogs and let them reflect religious life in the community, under your banner? Are there people who believe your news report is too liberal? What if you gave them a blog and let them reflect conservative life in the community? Are there environmental groups upset that you don't spend enough time addressing a particular issue of importance to them? Same solution.
As hard as the media tries to be inclusive, we cannot be all things to all people. So why not invite people to be all things to each other?
To which Hugh Hewitt commented:
... it will be taken only very slowly because of the guild mentality among old media journalists, the sort of guild think that animated the Wall Street Journal's attack on amateurs working on the Eason Jordan story. Letting a thousand bloggers bloom is an admission that their skills are equal to the task of informing the public.
I believe Hugh was using metaphor to describe the mentality of many professional journalists, the "guild think" that ascribes credibility to only those passing their self-selected, self-propagating barriers to entry. And he's right about that. But let's not forget, newspaper folks are also literally a guild.
Locally, they're known as the Minnesota Newspaper Guild Typographical Union. And in this setting, all pretensions of being a profession are cast aside and the members behave exactly like a union. That is, first and foremost and always protecting their own self interests. To the exclusion of anything else, like the overall health of the enterprise employing them or the customers they're hired to serve.
To put it more bluntly yet, their mission, as quoted from the union web site:
The union exists for one reason: Power. We've achieved it through the work and dedication of Twin Cities Guild members over the past six decades. With the addition of the Typo Union 30, the first craft union organized in the state (in 1850), we have increased that power.
That doesn't exactly inspire one to risk their money and effort investing in a newspaper, does it? At least not one with a unionized workforce. But, if your belief is that labor should own and control the means of production, then I suppose that mission statement fits just fine.
Getting back to the Julie Moos question - why don't newspapers invite bloggers to help inform and guide their coverage of news - here's one possible answer: the Guild won't stand for it.
This scenario presented itself while I was reviewing the back catalog of Twins Geek. It seems his one year (now terminated) tenure of hosting his terrific baseball blog on the Star Tribune Web site is still provoking protest from the Union bosses. This from the lead item in their Shop Talk newsletter (which also includes a protest against WCOO weather man Paul Douglas - and, believe it or not, it's not due to his use of the term "snizzle"):
The first of what could be several cases taken to arbitration was heard Jan. 20-21. That case centers on the union's challenge of the company's assignment of meteorologist Paul Douglas to write routine front page weather stories, a violation of the union's jurisdiction.
Close on the heels of the Douglas arbitration is a similar jurisdictional case involving the Star Tribune's contracting with a third party to write a daily web log, twinsgeek.com, for the paper's web site.
It's not clear exactly what the nature of these union challenges are, but I suspect it has something to do with neither Douglas nor Twins Geek being members of the Guild and them having the unmitigated temerity of being talented enough writers to be chosen by management to be featured in the newspaper anyway. Those with Power might feel entitled to interevene in this arrangement, so as not to lose any of that Power. The end product be damned.
John Bonnes, the Twins Geek, is in the dark on this one himself, as evidenced by his February 3rd reaction (no permalink available) to a reader's email informing him that he's a party to this action:
I am? How can I be the last person to know about this? And why do I suddenly have this vision of Paul Douglas and I, with a hand clenched in defiance, racing in a convertible over a cliff?
I'm not sure a lesbian suicide pact is in order just yet. But if you'd like to read more about this sorry tale of the hopeful new and resentful old media worlds colliding, check out Bonnes's final Star Tribune Twins Geek column and this analysis from baseball blogger Aaron Gleeman.