A year ago, Jonathan Klein, current president of CNN, airily dismissed the bloggers who dethroned Dan Rather. “These bloggers have no checks and balances… You couldn’t have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of checks and balances [at 60 Minutes] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing.”
Of course, it wasn’t so long ago (25 years, to be exact) that CNN was the new media outlet on the block. And the neighborhood kids turned their noses up at Ted Turner’s brainchild. Broadcast newshound Sam Donaldson derided CNN as the “Chicken Noodle Network.”
Time, you see, not only heals all wounds. It heels all mavericks, making top dogs out of underdogs.
The underdogs of our time, journalistically speaking, are bloggers. And the online unraveling of Rathergate was their first unmitigated triumph.
One of the bloggers who led the charge against Rather is Charles Johnson, proprietor of the curiously named Little Green Footballs. Shortly after this triumph, Johnson joined forces with another popular blogger, Roger L. Simon, to form (thumbing their noses at Klein and all other doubters) Pajamas Media.
Aside from blogging, Simon is a screenwriter and novelist, Johnson a session musician and computer-software entrepreneur. The business partners have spent the past several months lining up bloggers and investors to participate in their new venture.
“Our intention is to create an aggregation of good blogs, quality-wise, to provide an alternative to the mainstream media,” Simon tells NRO.
In the beginning, however, they will be somewhat dependent on that same mainstream media. The site will have links to the top news headlines of the day, as reported by the AP and other establishment news sources.
Here’s the difference: alongside each news headline, Pajamas Media will link related blog posts that their editors consider to be the most interesting or insightful out there. And as the story evolves, so will the blog links. Pajamas Media’s coverage and commentary will be worldwide and around-the-clock. They already have blogger editors lined up in Europe and Australia.
If all proceeds according to plan, the eventual goal is to replace the established media sources with a network of what Johnson and Simon call “citizen-journalists.”
It’s their contention that blogging has demonstrated journalism isn’t rocket science, nor is it even medicine or law, requiring highly specialized training over a long period of time. Rathergate, the Jayson Blair scandal, and other major media slip-ups too numerous to mention revealed that the mainstream media have no magical wardrobe.
In some instances, bloggers have beaten the networks and papers to the punch, providing better and timelier news than the big guns can. They point to members of the military who blog from the frontlines in Iraq, while highly-paid, pampered reporters hunker down in Baghdad’s Green Zone. More recently, some of the most incisive reporting during the Katrina disaster came from heretofore-unknown bloggers living in and around New Orleans and other hotspots.
Bloggers don’t work nine-to-five; they post around-the-clock. They don’t file one story a day; they might update dozens of times throughout a 24-hour period. And they are everywhere. The New York Times has 53 bureaus worldwide (16 of them in the New York area). Pajamas Media plans to easily top that number, and at a fraction of the cost.
Pajamas Media has already signed up dozens of bloggers, including: the Volokh Conspiracy, Michelle Malkin, Michael Totten, Daniel Drezner, Iraq the Model, Eric Umansky, La Shawn Barber, and NRO contributor Cathy Seipp. (The Pajamas Media website is running occasional profiles of participating bloggers.) The list lengthens almost daily.
And it won’t all be politics. The site will eventually feature various “lifestyle hubs,” Simon said, including technology, business, consumer electronics, and sports. One such blogger they’ve signed up, for instance, is fashion maven The Manolo.
Pajamas Media will not restrict their links to participating blogs, however. Their editors will scour the Internet for anyone with an intriguing spin or fresh facts on a story or event, regardless of their ideology or affiliation.
Pajamas Media will also distinguish itself from the mainstream folks, according to Simon, with “a new method of fact-checking.”
An internal instant-messaging system will link their correspondents all over the world. If there are any doubts about a report’s veracity, they can call on the expertise of their editors instantly.
These editors thus far include California-based freelance journalist Jill Stewart, Tennessee-based Glenn Reynolds of the ur-blog Instapundit, and Aussie columnist Tim Blair.
“If we’re not certain a story is real,” Simon said, “we immediately ping our eight wise men and check it out.”
More than that, however, Johnson and Simon consider the entire blogosphere their fact-checkers. This is a sacred tenet among many bloggers. If a blogger makes a mistake, readers will call him on it right away, either via comment or email. And the blogger is honor-bound to correct it immediately and clearly.
Instead of relying on a few overworked editors to fact-check every story, bloggers count on thousands of other bloggers to, as they like to say, “fact-check their a**.” Bloggers, in other words, lean on the collective knowledge of the entire Internet rather than a handful of elites.
Johnson and Simon claim that, like most bloggers, they will not hesitate to own up to errors. In their view, more established media are too arrogant and hidebound to admit many of their mistakes. And when they do, it’s often published separately from the original story. For instance, newspapers usually print corrections buried deep in subsequent editions. Someone who’s read the original error but doesn’t read the paper closely every day will never know of it.
You really can’t prevent every kind of error,” Simon elaborated. “The difference is, corrections will immediately come up on the front page [of Pajamas Media], as opposed to the mainstream media, where you need three Talmudic scholars to find the correction.
Johnson and Simon insist that ideology will not play a role in their quest to locate the best blog posts. Both are former liberal Democrats who turned to the right after 9/11. They’ve made a deliberate effort to include all angles on their board of editors. For example, “you’ve got David Corn on one side, and Michael Barone on the other,” Simon said. “And in the middle Tammy Bruce.”
Other editorial board members include Tim Blair (Australia), Jose Guardia (Barcepundit in Spain), and NRO contributors Michael Ledeen, Cliff May, and John Podhoretz.
Simon and Johnson loathe ideological labels. In their view the Internet is creating, in Simon’s words, “hybrid political thinking”–people who may be social liberals and foreign policy hawks, for instance, or liberal economically but conservative socially.
“This whole left-right thing kind of sprung out of the French Revolution,” Johnson said. “And I don’t want to define myself by the French.”
Pajamas Media is already edging away from their humble origins a little bit. They plan to change their name to something more respectable. What is it? They’re not telling. They plan a kick-off party in New York City on November 16, when they will reveal their new company name, as well as other details of the venture.
Isn’t this all a little pie-in-the-sky, however? Who could imagine supplanting the venerable Associated Press wire service, for instance?
“We’d be foolish not to try,” Simon replied, grinning toward Johnson. “You’re sitting four feet away from the guy who ended Dan Rather’s career.”
–Andrew Leigh is a screenwriter based in Los Angeles.