In a letter to the media news site Romenesko, Rob Walsh pops the hype balloon of weblogs, describing them as "nothing more than the Web's version of talk radio."
If weblogs are talk radio, as Walsh derides, they are talk radio in which every caller has his own show. The global reach and lack of barriers set them apart.
Unlike every other mass medium, the Web doesn't let giant corporations hog the mike. A former CBS gift shop employee who never went to college has a bigger online audience than CBS News. An obscure reporter from Wisconsin is now a media institution.
Journalists should be paying attention to weblogs, if for no other reason than enlightened self-interest. A cloud of webloggers can descend upon questionable reporting like locusts, leaving nothing but devastation and droppings behind in their wake.
Last March, Tim Blair, a weblogger in Sydney, Australia, read a quote in a Chicago Tribune piece he thought was too good to be true:
"These people always complain," said Graham Thorn, a psychiatrist. "They want it both ways: their way and our way. They want to live in our society and be respected, yet they won't work. They steal, they rob and they get drunk. And they don't respect the laws."
As the Tribune later admitted, reporter Uli Schmetzer fabricated the name and occupation of the source. They ended his nearly 20-year association with the paper.
In announcing Schmetzer's fabrication, Tribune Public Editor Don Wycliff noted wryly that Blair "seems to have set himself up as a kind of independent monitor of the press."
The experience with Schmetzer convinced Wycliff that weblogs represent a new check on the media: "In the past, national and foreign correspondents could roam the country or the world writing stories about people who would never see their work. In the Internet age, there are fewer and fewer places where the Chicago Tribune -- or the Waxahachie Daily Light, for that matter -- cannot be accessed and read critically by people about whom we write."
Could "Tim in Sydney" call a talk radio show in Australia and get a reporter fired in Chicago?