Friday, August 11, 2006

What a Busy Little News Cycle!

Nothing sets the blogosphere atwitter like the announcement of a major press conference, especially when the climax is tipped as it was today by The O--that Ben Westlund would drop his independent bid for goobernor. There were almost 2 hours of speculation and traded phone calls among political geeks trying to find out who knew what. GayRightsWatch was the first to offer what they called confirmed information on the withdrawal, and of course their information turned out to be good. The online world almost had to carry the story; apparently Ben Westlund was so uninfluential to this race that no network--TV or radio--carried the conference. With reporters attending the event, however, The O published online the earliest quotes from the announcement, leading the coverage as far as we could tell.

Over here, we were still getting a bunch of visitors on the story that the Merc, DailyKos and LoadedO all kind of pushed at once: The Gaybaiting Gardener of Independence, Ore. (I shall hereinafter refer to Mr. Hake as "Troy Hake, The Gaybaiting Gardener of Independence, Ore." It sounds like an HGTV show, instead of the sad commentary on continuing bigotry that it is.) The combination of the two stories, plus residual hits from our exclusive report that Ron Wyden would back Ned Lamont, pushed us over the 1,000-hit ceiling for the day. That's always fun.

Anyway, as noted The O's political blog was the key mover on the Westlund story, so props to the paper of record for making the most of their otherwise still-shabby web design. I should note that one of the groups that visited us on the OutsidePride piece was a bunch of angry gardeners from The O's gardening blog. I know Carla appreciates that one. But you know where the story didn't run? In the news section of the paper. Prove me wrong if the story of Troy Hake, The Gaybaiting Gardener of Independence, Ore. has been mentioned in any traditional media versions, but it's going on two days now and none of the MSM have touched this story. The head of an OR-based company sends out a gaybashing email to his entire customer list, and that's not news? C'mon.

The O is smart to use the available technology to fulfill their newsgathering mission, but it's also terribly self-evident that they're going to have to do something, because the print version of newspapers is starting to become the albatross of the industry rather than the bulwark. For one thing, when the story is not a hot breaking one like the Westlund tentfolding, the print media tend to lag badly, even amongst themselves. Example: all of a sudden the "dead zone" off the Oregon coast is a big deal. It is, of course. But it was something we'd come across in the Statesman-Journal two weeks ago. To paraphrase the story And the Band Played On, how many dead crabs did The O need?

And my jaw dropped a little as I thumbed through the metro section and read the story about Darlene Hooley's opponent loaning himself $255,000, which was not only something we covered back on July 17th, but the result of a standard part of the electoral cycle--the 2nd quarter fundraising reports. What was The O waiting on? That's basic stuff, especially given the weird crap politicians try to pull in their reporting.

Obviously you can't expect a print medium to compete with the blogsphere, but these stories were fresh a lot longer ago than this week. The O has a fully reported version of the Westlund story in print this morning, and that's fine. And offering their reporters to the online version for quick-breaking stories is even better. But if they're online, who's there to mind the store back at the office and write up the dead zone and FEC stories? No one, I guess. I suppose I shouldn't complain--it only makes our own role more important--but even though I believe that we do good work here, we're still just amateurs. We're all served best by a vital and timely professional journalistic corps, whether their work shows up via printer's ink or a series of tubes.