Back in early September 2008, many of us who had already been writing for out-of-state audiences about Alaska's pervasive and often-ignored in-state political corruption, found the microscope of close scrutiny by nationally recognized reporters, in the wake of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's nomination to the GOP national ticket, to be both jarring and welcome.
Jarring, for two reasons. First, I'd been writing nationally for a long time on the corruption of Rep. Don Young and of Sen. Ted Stevens. Some of the stories had elicited interest, but with Palin's pick, interest in my writing - and that of other Alaska bloggers - intensified ten-fold, then a hundred-fold, then a thousand-fold. And, second, the responsibility that came along with this wider attention was palpable.
The new attention was welcome, too. First, because Alaska's political bloggers already were aware that our local media, contracting and laying off writers, was sorely pressed to cover what important stories were out there, let alone this new, intense level. And, second, because, by and large, we had something to prove. We hoped to prove that we could help explain Palin's rise and underpinning better than our local mainstream media could, or had. Sometimes derided in the press, but far more often ignored, we felt we would gain some respect locally as well as nationally, through our stories, anecdotes, essays and presentation of little-known or ignored facts.
II. Second, we share a lot, but try not to rip off others' work.
Just this past week, one of the many nationally-known writers who came to Alaska last fall, New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, got caught plagiarizing a nationally known blogger. On May 14th, talkingpointsmemo.com founder, Josh Marshall, wrote:
"More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when the we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq."
On May 17th, Dowd wrote in her column:
"More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when the Bush crowd was looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq."
This is called plagiarism. Dowd, who was one of the many journalists who wrote columns decrying Joe Biden's plagiarism incident a generation ago, made up one lame excuse after another.
The new journalism of the 21st century has many challenges, and the canard that bloggers, in general rip off other peoples' stuff is a red herring in the face of the many examples we have of "real" reporters and columnists doing exactly as Dowd did. Or worse. Dowd's former colleague Judith Miller, has been exposed as severely truth-challenged, willfully enabling the Bush administration to lie us into an awful, unnecessary war. She was forced out of work at the NYT, mostly by the efforts of - bloggers.
Right now, as Alaska media is so woefully inadequate in covering one of our lives' most important issues - Americans torturing hundreds of people, many of them totally innocent, to death - Alaska progressive bloggers are telling the truth, which is painful.
This past winter, no sooner did the word get out on the emerging fuel and food crisis in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska's progressive bloggers, along with Camille Conte at KUDO-AM radio, led the way in getting the story to a national audience. Accurately. Had it not been for foul weather in Bethel, our bloggers' representative, photo and video journalist Dennis Zaki, would have reached the impact area days before anyone else, with information gathering tools, and with financial assistance, raised nationwide by our Alaska bloggers.
This past winter and early spring, when local media did little to get to the bottom of how awful attorney general nominee Wayne Anthony Ross was, Alaska's bloggers, in the opinion of some legislators, helped in his defeat even more than he did himself. We even predicted the vote outcome - defeat. The Anchorage Daily News failed to see it, declaring him a victor before the vote was taken.
We predicted the outcome by sharing information, helping each other obtain facts. The Anchorage Daily News failed, mostly through hubris and incuriosity. Sort of like what got MoDo this week.
The best example this week (yes, there are weekly examples) of the hubris and incuriosity at the Anchorage Daily News, has been the coverage by Alaska's premiere blogger, Linda Kellen, at Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis, of the shallow nature of ADN editorial coverage of the results of one citizen's query for clarification of one executive ethics issue. Her continuing series on this is remarkable, not only for its clarity, but for the plain fact that it is far more accurate, far better researched, and far more truthful than what is being written on the ADN editorial pages. Not just once or twice, but every fucking time.
Even when Kellen has blasted the ADN on this, she has been quite kind about it. Simply put, though, Kellen, as citizen activist, and as blogger, is doing her job. The ADN editors, in attempting to do their jobs, are not.
III. Third, we are building communities.
My favorite blogs are the ones that have built up communities of readers who comment and interact creatively with one another. I especially like it when a disagreement emerges, but then is discussed rationally, with everyone - or at least most - taking away something new from the experience. Even more, I like it when the person who has posted the blog article participates in the feedback.
The Mudflats has become Alaska's largest progressive blogging community. And Shannyn Moore's posts seem to - along with Linda Kellen's - elicit some of the most informed comments and internal debate. Moore is very good at jumping right back into the comments.
Moore's most recent Huffington Post essay, cross-posted from Just a Girl from Homer, is a case in point. It is about torture, an important issue that would be barely covered in Alaska, if not for Shannyn, and for Progressive Alaska.
Moore's essay is based on a recent conversation with a German-born friend, about coming to terms with one's own citizens who have committed war crimes. Moore laments how our press and some of our national leaders are politicizing what is actually a core moral issue that transcends politics. Her article is very good. As one commenter, Moshe, wrote:
I have been reading HuffPo since the beginning, and I think that your post may be among the best and most significant I have read.
It should be read by every American, and most certainly by every American charged with political leadership.
But another commenter made an important point, adding to the substance of Moore's essay, that hadn't contrasted the moral differences between the upbringings of the current generations of adult West Germans and East Germans. Commenter Elisadora wrote:
The experience of Shannyn's friend is typical for those (like myself) who grew up in West Germany, but the story is very different for East Germany. The East chose to project responsibility on others, to ignore and forget, and those who grew up there never had to confront the truth, the guilt and the shame and thus never arrived at that horrified and soul-deep commitment of the West to never, ever, let this happen again.
The result? Since re-unification Neo-Nazis are having a field day in the former East, recruiting swathes of young ignorant people who love the strong-man ideology and glorify the same old fascist ideas. Violence, hate-crimes against foreigners are up today in the former East, the Neo-Nazi movement reaches deeply even into politics, extreme right-wing parties regularly getting 10% of regional votes.
The scale of the Nazi crimes is not comparable with what happened in the US recently, but the psychological challenge is similar. Mental acknowledgement alone will not make a lasting impact. True change requires confronting the truth fully and working through it on an emotional level. It is necessary to feel and bear the shock and the shame, and it will be those images, not words, that continue to elicit deep emotional responses.
President Obama will not be there forever. If this shift is not achieved deeply in the American psyche now, than it will be no surprise to see it all happen again.
And Moore responded back:
Thank you. This makes my point, the West acknowledged and resolved to never let it happen again. The East, buried it, blamed it, and repeat the ideology rejected soundly by the world.
At Alaska's mainstream media outlets, this full feedback-learning circuit is rarely achieved. At our progressive blogs, it is sometimes commonplace.
IV. And, finally, Alaska's progressive bloggers realize that, for better or worse, more and more, there's nobody there to tell the story if we don't.
Back on December 23rd, 2007, ADN Editor Pat Dougherty wrote:
We take our responsibilities as Alaska’s largest news organization very seriously. Whether we are covering public corruption or the homefront consequences of the Iraq war, the effort to build a gas line or the effects of global warming in Alaska, we know that if we don’t do the story, it may not get done.That may have been true ten years ago, or five, maybe even three years ago. But it is no longer the case. Since November 4th, 2007, when this blog started, the growth in new Alaska media has been just as phenomenal as the shrinkage in the old. PA's Alaska Progressive Blogs blogroll has more than doubled in size. The readership of these blogs grows every day.
Just one example is the buyout at the ADN of their fisheries and business writer, Wesley Loy. Until the paper decides how best to replace Loy, there is no one person to fulfill this important responsibility. Laine Welch, through her syndicated writing, Elizabeth Bluemink and Kyle Hopkins are trying to fill the gap.
Loy has gone out to start his own blog, Deckboss. He is posting more information at his own blog, than he had been able to at the ADN Highliners blog, when he worked there. Additionally, when it comes to fisheries, fishery politics corruption, Alaska Native fishing, subsistence, and habitat sustainability, in the blogging community, there is the excellent reporting at the Alaska Report, at No Trawl Zone, at Anonymous Bloggers, and even Progressive Alaska.
Alaska's progressive bloggers are quite proud when we break, lead or detail a story that hasn't been covered here, or has been dealt with incuriously. We're even more proud - and delighted - when we bloggers share in compounding the energy of that coverage, through our unique ways of writing, investigating or in dealing with feedback from our communities.
Increasingly, though, we're also aware of the growing responsibilities we share to tell the truth, share information, build educated, informed communities, and to avoid hubris and institutionalization.