The day a blogger knocked down CNN and Fox News
May 8, 2012
A ascensão dos blogueiros desafia a supremacia da mídia tradicional e expõe suas falhas na cobertura de eventos importantes.
When Dan Rather, legendary anchor of American TV, snubbed the American political bloggers who were challenging a story he had published, saying he wouldn't pay attention to a group of "unqualified guys in pajamas", he crystallized the basic feeling that media professionals have about the exclusivity of their own activity - storytelling, raising facts, researching events. Rather certainly did not know that his demonstration of prejudice would also be the final blow to his career - he announced retirement after the incident. Almost 10 years later, the overwhelming majority of journalists still see all bloggers as "unqualified guys in pajamas" and continue to live in a big world of denial. In the American Supreme Court's decision on the country's health care reform proposed by President Barack Obama, the media once again slipped on their own arrogance and took an ippon from the “guys in pajamas”. But now - and increasingly - ignoring these guys will be difficult.
In a short and harsh summary of the story, the blog SCOTUS (an acronym in English for "Supreme Court of the United States", which is a blog specialized in covering the institution) was the first media in the USA to correctly interpret the Supreme Court's ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”), nicknamed Obamacare. The court's ruling was favorable to the project, but the mainstream media pointed out that the court had struck down Obamacare, where the ultra-conservative Fox News and CNN maintained this position with particular insistence for several hours.
The demonstration of how the media system is schizophrenic as a whole is that SCOTUS fulfilled its journalistic role with more praise even though it is so snubbed that it didn't even have credentials to be in court at the time of the ruling's announcement. Journalists and media outlets still see (or at least saw) SCOTUS as “the guys in pajamas”, without bothering to clearly evaluate the quality of the work they were doing. Incidentally, this is the standard attitude of professionals and companies, and, to be fair, it is the result of a corporatism that afflicts most professions. The blog outperformed professionals from two of the world's largest media companies simply because they were really good at it. They may not know how to talk about weather forecasting, or the race for the mayor of Waco, but when it comes to the American Supreme Court, watch out.
The prominence of someone's opinion who writes in a famous newspaper or magazine comes from three maxims. The first is that this media carefully chooses the best to produce the content offered to the reader; the second is that journalists are better equipped for the "journalistic doing" than most people; the third is that amateurs do not produce quality content. The first is no longer true (if it ever was); the second ditto and the third is not and has never been real.
In recent decades, newspapers and magazines have taken a violent turn in their priorities, putting quality aside to increase profits and the newsrooms of 99% of today's publications have younger and less costly professionals. The logic of choosing journalists has gone from "who writes better" to "who asks for less". The change also occurred in journalism courses (in Brazil, more than anywhere else): the number of courses increased exponentially and the requirement and quality declined in the same measure, "aided" by the systematic dismantling of public education systems. Newly graduated journalists incapable of writing a paragraph without Portuguese errors are certainly the majority.
As for amateurs, the prejudice against them comes from the consolidation of the first universities in Europe in the early 19th century, where academics shielded research centers to turn them into small fiefdoms (where, as several schools can prove, semi-competent insecure people are abundant in the "fear" of competition with knowledge alien to these institutions). However, amateurs have always produced quality materials. The French writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau, between writing The Social Contract and On Education, wrote an opera. The actor Hugh Laurie besides acting, also writes and is a musician in his spare time; the monk Gregor Mendel was an Augustinian monk, but basically founded genetics; Faraday and Thomas Edison made many of their contributions outside their areas of expertise. Jeff Howe, the creator of the term crowdsourcing, says that the collective contribution that characterizes it is made exactly because many people have skills that go far beyond what is written on their business cards, and in many cases, they just couldn't follow this other career due to survival demands.
There is another factor that increases the chances of "amateurs" in content production, which is the decline of the education system. With solid digital sources of knowledge available, the number of individuals who are educating themselves outside formal systems has grown absurdly. On the other hand, formal diplomas have less and less meaning, as education has become such a business that the number of laughable colleges has exploded and this diploma factory has flooded the market with titles whose real value is zero, or almost. Not to mention the companies that offer fake diplomas, like this one. According to the FBI, 1% of the 1.3 million diplomas issued every year in the United States is fake.
The SCOTUS x Fox+CNN episode is likely to repeat itself more and more frequently. Knowledge niches cannot generate the necessary income to become interesting for a corporation, but they can be extremely profitable for lean companies that offer a product that is really better than others. The monopoly of content production has fallen and in the long run, Fox's of life have to reinvent themselves by bringing SCOTUS and "amateurs" into their production flow if they don't want to disappear.