05/20/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Netroots Go Deep

We were at the Netroots Nation New Media Summit this afternoon in San Francisco, welcomed by Nancy Pelosi -- looking and sounding very much as if she's getting used to being on top of the world -- and followed by a panel of media revolutionaries, who also seem to be getting used to being on the inside after years of being the bleeding edge. Markos Moulitsas summed it up with an off-hand closing remark, "We're just the soundtrack for what's going on." Actually, the panel was both the soundtrack, the movie, and coming attractions. No one claimed to know where the new media was headed, except that newspapers were getting deader by the moment.

The panel split into two camps about what should and will happen to investigative reporters. And here's where one of the most interesting comments I've heard about a reporter's role was made. I suddenly realized why I could read the entire NY Times every day in 30 minutes or less.

Clara Jeffery, Co-Editor of Mother Jones, and one smart lady, described what might be lost if all those professional reporters no longer had a paying newspaper or magazine job. She said long-form reporters have two responsibilities: One -- be a check on government power run amok. Two -- be a check on corporate power run amok.

She said it as if she'd said it not-infrequently before. But it made me wonder if that's really why I read a paper or a magazine. I'm kinda sorta interested in keeping those two groups in check, but isn't there a huge other area of our world that needs reporting on? I'm talking about the stuff that actually makes me want to get up in the morning and feel good about the world. I want to know if we're making any progress. Is civilization moving forward or backward today? Did someone discover something important, or create something beautiful? I want to know what's happening in the human story that tells me it's all going to be okay someday.

But when Ms. Jeffery said that with such a sense of completeness, I really began to wonder if I should be reading a paper at all. They want to do a 'get' on the bad guys. But I want to know what the good guys are doing. Maybe that's why all the big stories are the ones I barely glance at, and the tiny ones, even the great obituaries (I can't believe I never heard of this person before -- what a life!) are where the important stuff is. As an example of the big stories, the ones I don't read, Karl Frisch of Media Matters (by the way, please give this guy his own show -- he's smart and sneaky clever) cited the David Barstow NY Times story that ran for two days and used up about twenty-five thousand barrels of ink to tell us that the Pentagon had been running a media shop before and during the Iraq war, putting a lot of guys with medals on the talk shows. Frisch was pointing out that the story got zilch traction and was wondering why. Maybe it's because anyone who could fog a mirror already knew the story years before the huge exposé went live just by watching TV and noticing there were a whole lot of guys in medals spinning the war and singing from the same hymnal.

The future of the "New Media"? If you're reading this, you're already part of it