09/25/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Who's Driving Whom? The Blogosphere vs. Mainstream Media

In the first panel of the day at the Seachange Ideas Forum, distinguished journalists from both sides weighed in on "Who's Driving Whom? The Blogosphere vs. Mainstream Media," analyzing the relationship between the traditional media and the blogosphere. Arianna Huffington moderated a thoughtful panel comprised of Jonathan Alter, Senior Editor and Political Columnist for Newsweek Politics, Digby, founding blogger of Hullabaloo, and Chris Cillizza, the Washington Post's political blog, The Fix, and Greg Maffei, CEO of Liberty Media Group.

The wide-ranging panel covered a diverse set of topics, including the role of the blogosphere in traditional media, the financial difficulties facing media outlets in today's struggling economy, the cost of doing on-site journalism, the changing business model online for blogs, and what the future holds for the traditional press.

Huffington opened, wanting to define the role of blogs in the media, noting that one of the advantages of the blogosphere has is that, "The web is not competitive like the mainstream media is competitive."

Alter came to the defense of traditional venues like Newsweek and the New York Times, saying that, "Talk is cheap; reporting is expensive." According to Alter, putting a journalist on the ground in Iraq -- the only way to get the real story -- costs $1.5 million a year. While he reads many blogs and feels they serve an important purpose for the public, he said that good serious journalism is expensive because it requires time, resources, and "going to the story." Blogs, on the other hand, mostly rely on information that has already been dug up by traditional journalists.

The panel turned to journalistic ethics, and how the media has changed. Huffington remarked with regret that, "Journalism is about ferreting out the truth. Now it's about showing both sides, and being objective."

Alter said he doesn't like the word "objective" -- he prefers "neutral" -- and that the country's media outlets have been slowly moving toward a more European model, with individual papers and TV channels supporting particular political views. He cited the Right's use of talk radio in the 80s and 90s as the beginning of this trend. This is a major problem, Alter said, because it compromises the credibility of the media outlets.

Cillizza spoke on how blogs can be an expression of analysis or opinion, and that the two are not the same thing. He said that The Fix is an expression of his analysis of the news, not really opinion. But the move in this direction, away from the detached style of traditional journalism, shocked a number of people, especially when he started using the informal "we" and "I" in his analysis.

Alter said that often the problem with the press is that, "The analysis team is constrained by a phony sense of balance." The media focuses on laying out both perspectives of the story equally, regardless of whether the two sides are equal, or even true. If the media criticizes the Republicans, they must equally criticize the Democrats.

But Digby disagreed, saying that the media simply failed to do their job for entire Bush administration and that's why the public has been turning to citizen journalism. "The press lost their credibility when they lost their credibility. One of the reasons the blogs rose up is frustration," she said. "The punditocracy -- often, they're just plain wrong."

Huffington also felt strongly about this, saying "The mainstream media is not very good at that, saying they're wrong." Alter countered, saying that this class of people - the pundits, opinion-makers, and so-called "talking heads" - don't really affect all that much of public opinion. While Digby disputed this, Alter estimated no more than 10 million people listen to and care about what the pundits say.

As for the financials of journalism, Massai said that the business model is pushing ad revenue away from traditional TV and print outlets, and into online businesses, especially search. He also said he fears the influence of Digg, because readers only read what they wanted to read, rather than the important stories they should read.

In the future, Huffington believes that the revenue will be there, as long as the media outlets are flexible and work with new media's advantages. "We are moving toward a form of hybrid media," said Huffington. "We need to stop seeing it as either-or."

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