By Jefferson Flanders

As New York’s man-about-town columnist Jimmy Cannon used to say: Nobody asked me, but…

ARE BLOGGERS JOURNALISTS? Terry McDermott of the Los Angeles Times offers evidence that some bloggers are in his piece on John Marshall and TPM Media. Marshall and two of his blogs, Talking Points Memo and TPM Muckraker, “pieced together” the story behind the Bush Administration’s firing of the eight U.S. attorneys.

McDermott writes:

The bloggers used the usual tools of good journalists everywhere — determination, insight, ingenuity — plus a powerful new force that was not available to reporters until blogging came along: the ability to communicate almost instantaneously with readers via the Internet and to deputize those readers as editorial researchers, in effect multiplying the reporting power by an order of magnitude.

McDermott overstates the case a bit. When you read the story closely, it turns out that the tips that flowed into Talking Points Memo and TPM Muckracker largely came from local newspapers—electronic clips that were sent in by readers.

Bloggers do act as journalists when they “piece together” a story, but we have yet to see much original reporting in the blogosphere. Blogs remain derivative in nature, dependent primarily on newspaper and wire service reporting. The unanswered question is: what business model will allow newspapers to sustain that vital, on-the-scene journalism?

BOSTON’S ONE-TIME DEMOCRATIC BOSS, MARTIN LOMASNEY, became famous for saying: “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.”

It’s advice that—surprisingly—few follow in today’s world of e-mail, instant messaging and cell-phone video. The uproar over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys has been driven by the disclosure of Justice Department e-mails outlining the unsavory political basis of the terminations.

In the past if you were worried about privacy or secrecy, you could burn letters, notes, and photos and be fairly sure you had destroyed the “evidence.” Not so today—the digital leave-behinds float around the web or on your hard-drive or on a server somewhere “out there,” ready to surface at an inopportune time.

Today, fortunately for investigative reporters and government prosecutors, the “long-tail” of e-mail corruption remains very, very hard to eradicate.

ROBERT SAMUELSON ASKS WHETHER PRIVATE EQUITY FIRMS are “good for the country” in his Newsweek magazine piece “The Enigma of Private Equity.” The answer? Maybe. Or maybe not. Samuelson writes:

To its champions, private equity forces companies to cut costs and improve efficiency, and profits are deserved. To critics, profits flow mainly from loading companies up with debt, and private equity is a sophisticated swindle that often cheats ordinary shareholders.

Samuelson punts on the question. I won’t: if we could harness the energy that goes into the financial manipulations practiced by private equity firms and focus it, instead, on generating true wealth (new products, services, and industries), intead of paper profits, the country would be better off. So as currently directed with their emphasis on financial engineering, private equity firms aren’t a positive force in the economy.

IS ARCADE FIRE THE NEXT U2? Slate magazine’s Jody Rosen would have you think so, hyping Arcade Fire’s latest album Neon Bible, and suggesting the Canadian group is ready to “grab the baton” from Bruce Springsteen and U2. Decide for yourself, but they sound to me more like a cross between Meat Loaf and a Springsteen cover band than the next “world’s greatest band.”

DO NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS QUESTION VALERIE PLAME WILSON’S SIGNIFICANCE? The Times’ account of Plame’s congressional testimony appears on page A11 of Saturday’s Gray Lady with a reefer from the front page carrying the teaser headline “Ex-C.I.A Agent Testifies.”

The Times apparently felt stories on middle school teachers battling difficult students, a company selling Irish sod to nostalgic Americans, and the troubles some home buyers are having with foreclosures topped Plame’s account—because these stories all received front-page treatment. In contrast, the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times carried the Plame story on their front pages.

THE WORDS FOR THE WEEK COME FROM GRETA GARBO, the Swedish actress who practiced Scandinavian restraint throughout her life: ““Your joys and sorrows, you can never tell them. You cheapen the inside of yourself if you do tell them.”

Reprinted from Neither Red nor Blue 

Copyright © 2007 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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