Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Does Progressive Bloggers need an ombudsman?

Thinking about this since yesterday and finally provoked into writing about it by this piece by Maritime Liberal, who complains about the failure of the modern media. ML writes:

The media in our country is slowly drifting towards that of the US and in neither case, it does not bode well for the future of public discourse. Newspapers, television networks, etc. are in the business of selling news, not telling the news. As a result, we see the rise of sensationalism, mass popular culture, and a decline of the sophistication of discourse. In other words, in order to sell the news, the media has resorted to dumbing down the news and sensationalizing it in order to increase its viewership/readership.

And there's no doubt that the modern mainstream media sucks. We can make fun of the National Post, while ignoring the fact that the Globe and Mail is not a whole lot better. Americans can slag the Moonie-run Washington Times while refusing to admit that the Washington Post and the New York Times are now, for the most part, crap (notable exceptions being folks like Frank Rich and Paul Krugman, who deserve so much better than to share the op-ed page with fuckwads like David Brooks). So where does one get one's news?

For most of us, the obvious answer is, "blogs." It's no surprise that most of us have given up on the mainstream media as little more than propaganda and have started relying heavily on blogs to figure out what's going on. But who's to say if blog content is any better? How does one know that what they're reading on someone's blog isn't similarly wretched nonsense?

To which PBer Simon Pole made a suggestion back here:

Should the blogosphere elect an ombudsman a la the Washington Post? Or perhaps a speaker?

Should we have a board of the blogosphere? Then we can start making jokes about bored of the blogosophere. HA HA HA...

And why not? But with a slight twist.

There's no way anyone's going to agree on a universal, ideology-independent ombudsman to cover, say, all of Canada's political blogging. So fine. Don't worry about the other folks, let's just talk about what PB.ca can do to establish itself as a source of reliable news.

PB.ca should get its own ombudsman to which readers can complain if they feel any PBer has been dishonest or misleading. This person should not, of course, be a member of PB.ca, but someone who has no rabid leanings either way and is willing to arbitrate complaints. Readers could submit complaints -- in public -- and those complaints could be resolved -- again, in public -- so everyone sees what's going on and there's full transparency.

To keep things manageable, complaints would have to involve accusations of actual dishonesty or bias, and not something as whiny as, "He called me an ignorant fucktard, and I want an apology," to which the appropriate response would be, naturally, "Grow up and piss off, Pete."

Judgment against a PBer would require some appropriate form of retraction or apology, at which point, that would be the end of it. Ongoing violations would result in the offender being turfed out of PB.ca.

Yes, yes, it sounds like overkill but, if you think about it, it's a solid gesture to convince readers that someone is looking out for their best interests and is willing to entertain complaints and do something about it. I don't know offhand if there are any other loosely-affiliated collections of bloggers who are doing this, so who's to say PB.ca can't be the first?

If we want to be taken seriously, might as well walk the walk. Thoughts?


Jason Cherniak said...

I think that the genious of Progressive Bloggers is that we are all ombudspeople. We vote on what we think is good and leave out the crap. If we vote for something that is incorrect, it tends to get quickly replaced at the top of a list by a different blogger who writes that the former top story was wrong.

I am pretty happy with the current PB setup. Otherwise, you start to turn it into an online magazine. That's not a bad idea, but it is a different sort of thing entirely. Hmm... Maybe I should put together something more official for a group of Liberals...

CC said...

Oh, I certainly understand all that and, even as I was writing this piece, I was thinking, am I making too much of this? (Me? Getting carried away? Yeah, hard to believe but it happens.)

I was just trying to find a way to address the question of a hypothetical reader perusing PB.ca, thinking: Why should I trust in any of this? Is there any accountability at all in what these people are writing? And, technically, no there isn't.

Your example of PB.ca members themselves voting on pieces doesn't really address the issue -- it just means that those members will promote pieces that they happen to agree with.

If that happened over at Blogging Tories, well, based on my recent adventures, it just means that totally dishonest crap will be pushed to the surface because the majority over there happen to like totally dishonest crap that fits their ideological agenda.

I think there is some value in having an external, independent entity to which readers can take their complaints and which has the power to do something about those complaints. But, I'll admit, I still don't know the best way to implement that.

Still, I think it's worth thinking about.

wonderdog said...

The practical problem would be that the ombudsman would be deluged with nuisance complaints during the election campaign, etc., each of which needs to be researched.

I'm with Jason, the community sorts itself out.

And are PB members going to stop writing falsehoods such as "WP is a chemical weapon" simply because the ombudsman says so?

Jason Cherniak said...

I have to admit that I was thinking more about an editor than an ombudsperson. Progressive Bloggers could have an election and pick 5 people (sort of like judges) who will take complaints and review them. Their decisions on real complaints could be posted at the top of the list.

To maintain fairness, we could elect:

1 Libloger;
1 Blogging Tory;
1 Blogging Dipper;
1 Non-partisan; and
1 Who Is On None Of The Lists

If we are going to do this, it should happen ASAP for the election.

Jason Cherniak said...

Actually, I would just elect 5 with the proviso that at least one be a Blogging Tory. I can just imagine fights about whether CalgaryGrit reall represents Liblogers during an election. :)

CC said...

The practical problem would be that the ombudsman would be deluged with nuisance complaints during the election campaign, etc., each of which needs to be researched.

Not necessarily. Most nuisance complaints are clearly nuisance on their face, and can be rejected almost immediately. For instance, anything from Pete Rempel. :-)

Seriously, though, there could be fairly clear guidelines such that, if you want to complain, you, as the complainer, have to provide the basis for the complaint and the supporting evidence. It's not up to the ombudsman to do your work -- you have to provide all of the evidence.

Put another way, it would be clear that your complaint would be judged entirely on the contents of your submission.

Also, if this process is public, readers would start to see who the chronic whiners are. And wouldn't that be entertaining.

In any event, I'm out of here tomorrow for a week so you folks can continue the discussion if you think it's worth pursuing. And it may very well not be. Who knows?

CC said...

One other point -- there's clearly a lot of PB.ca content that is not even remotely an issue. People posting humour, reporting on their far east travels, making fun of Pete Rempel ... that sort of thing.

Obviously, this accountability process would involve only a percentage of what's posted at PB.ca.

Maritime Liberal said...

Read down my blog a little ways and you will come across a petition I had for the blogosphere. I also suggested in the comments that we create a blog that is run by a representative from each blog roll that wouldn't act like a policeforce but would post daily examples of some of the crap that is posted out there in the blogosphere.

In regards to my media post, stay tuned later this evening for part two which will address our democracy.

Simon Pole said...

Perhaps we should put together some sort of council that would issue a certification -- like they do in the financial industry, and other industries.

Only blogs that had a certain consistency etc. could have the certification to put on their websites.

The certification would obviously have to have some value for people to want to "earn" it and maintain it. Perhaps this would be aggregation on a high-profile website. The website should probably have more functions that just aggregation, perhaps a forum and other functions like chat etc. Maybe have occasional events like bringing a national pudit for a question and answer session. Or have people submit questions like they do at Slashdot.

The two open questions are:

1) what would the composition of the council be, and how would it be chosen?

2) what will be the code of conduct bloggers must adhere to, and how would it be enforced.

On 1) Chosing council members along party lines seems fine to me, as long as we have a way to chose non-affiliated political bloggers as well.

2) A constitution would probably be the harder part, especially the rules on how it would be enforced. But there are enough bloggers, if we put up a wiki, I'm sure this could be accomplished pretty quickly.

Scott Tribe said...

Interesting discussion.. and I wish I could add some of what I know is going on behind the scenes at PB.. but when we get an election finally called... you may notice a few changes at the site.