Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Popehat addresses the status of bloggers vs. journalists

I had the privilege of meeting Ron Magers, the longtime news anchor at Chicago's ABC-7, at the CBA's Kogan Awards Luncheon last May. Mr. Magers was there as the keynote speaker; I was there as a nominee for one of the awards.

Mr. Magers' address concerned the many changes in the media and reporting that he's observed in the course of his illustrious career. He devoted a good deal of his talk to the impact of the Internet, both good and bad. Among the things he didn't like were 'news aggregators,' that is, sites that take content from other sites, often quoting liberally from the sources. Links may be provided back to the original sites, but if enough content is stolen, er, quoted, who needs to go back and read the original? The aggregators may deliver some web traffic to the original sources, but they siphon off some, too -- and, meanwhile, they sell ads on their pages to make money. Some of them make a lot of money.

Another thing that Mr. Magers wasn't too keen on was blogging and bloggers. While some bloggers may do some original work, he conceded, others are merely shouting from soapboxes in Bughouse Square... or in pajamas from their mothers' basements.

One of the best bloggers out here in the Ether, Ken, of Popehat, had a great post yesterday entitled, "Blogging: Compared To What?" I wish I'd had Ken's post in my back pocket when I heard Mr. Magers speak last May. At the risk of sinking to the level of a mere aggregator, allow me to quote liberally:
Despite how mainstream bloggers have become, and despite the fact that almost all "mainstream media" outlets have their own bloggers, the prevailing attitude seems unchanged in more than a decade: bloggers, we're told, are unreliable, biased, wild-eyed pajama-clad basement-dwellers.

Apart from the pajamas and basement part, I think this is irrefutably true. Bloggers are biased and unreliable.

Here's the key question: compared to what?
* * * * * * *
This is not to say you should trust bloggers. You should exercise skepticism about what you read on blogs. You should use your independent judgment about their work product.

But why, exactly, shouldn't we do the same with "mainstream" journalism outlets? By what stretch of the imagination are they reliable just because they have the big name?
I've seen this quote attributed to Mark Twain -- but I can't confirm that it really is one of his: "If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed." Whether Twain said it or not, it is a pretty true statement.

The best defense against misinformation is to cultivate multiple sources of information -- even if some of them are blogs -- and always maintain a healthy sense of skepticism.

Arguably related: You can't believe everything on the Internet... or on TV... or in the newspaper, for that matter. Now what?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Stories you may have missed in the week just past

Red light for Redflex. The supplier of Chicago's red light cameras, Redflex Traffic Systems, was informed this week that its contract will not be renewed this summer and has been disqualified from bidding on Mayor Emanuel's 'speed cameras,' "amid claims the company showered a city official with thousands of dollars in free trips—including a jaunt to the Super Bowl," according to Rachel M. Zahorsky's article Tuesday for ABA Journal Law News Now. Citing a Tribune story, Zahorsky writes that the chairman of Redflex Holdings has resigned "and trading in the company’s stock was suspended amid revelations that it is sharing information with law enforcement authorities."

Nine judges in ticket-fixing scandal in Pennsylvania. Rachel Zahorsky had another article Tuesday on ABA Journal Law News Now about H. Warren Hogeland, a Philadelphia Traffic Court judge, who pled guilty this week to mail fraud and conspiracy charges. Hogeland is one of nine present or former Philadelphia Trial Court judges "charged with dismissing or reducing citations for friends, family, associates and political allies." The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on February 13 that another former Traffic Court judge, Kenneth Miller, also pled guilty.

In a February 1 story, John P. Martin and Craig R. McCoy of the Inquirer described the scandal in these terms:
The indictment alleged that a practice was more the rule than the exception - judges or their assistants shredding documents, shifting cases to friendly judges, and hiding behind code words. Instead of bluntly asking a colleague to quash a ticket, judges allegedly asked for "consideration" on certain cases and then watched them disappear.

Consideration, the indictment said, was reserved for friends and relatives, ward leaders, and contractors or merchants who could trade favors of their own. Requests came by phone, in person, and in notes dropped in a box at a local bar.

"In addition to depriving the City of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania of funds rightly owed on traffic violations, their corrupt conduct also undermined the confidence that law-abiding citizens have in our Philadelphia court system," U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said.
By the end of last week, according to the Inquirer, the Philadelphia State Senate had passed two bills, one to "eliminate the seven-member court from the state constitution, which would require several years to accomplish. The second would hobble the court in the interim by transferring its responsibilities to Philadelphia Municipal Court."

Blogging can be hazardous to one's law license. The Blog had a post Monday entitled "Chicago Attorney Faces Ethics Violation For Airing Grievances on Blog." The blog in question, is subtitled, "[a]n attorney blog concerning corruption and greed in the Probate Court of Cook County."

The ARDC has charged the attorney-proprietor of the blog with "making a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge, adjudicatory officer or public legal officer, in violation of Rule 8.2 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct," "conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4(c) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct," "conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct," "presenting, participating in presenting, or threatening to present criminal charges to obtain an advantage in a civil matter, in violation of Rule 8.4(g) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct," and "conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute." (The ARDC's entire complaint against the blogger can be accessed by clicking here.)

One of the things they try to teach lawyers and movie directors alike is "show, don't tell." It's more persuasive for the the audience to reach conclusions on their own, on the basis of facts presented, than to be presented with demands that they accept the ultimate conclusions of the lawyer or director. I do not pretend to know one single thing about the cases that the blogger is so upset over, and I do not presume to have an informed opinion about the merits of the ARDC's complaint, but I have looked at the blog in question, and it seems to me there is a lot more telling than showing going on there.