Getting “Cranky” Over the Parasite Blogger Myth

January 7, 2010

Much has been written and speculated about the dire state of the mainstream media, both in terms of its financial condition and declining ethical standards.  If you ask me, much of the current financial troubles can be attributed to industry leaders’ death grip on their widely held misperception that citizen bloggers can’t produce good content and that their own reporter’s work is vastly superior simply because they went to j-school.

An egregious example of this misplaced and often smug superiority was evident in this blanket statement made in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Peter Kann, the former Dow Jones chairman who nearly drove that company to ruin:

“The Internet is not filling news vacuums either.  There are hundreds upon hundreds of online sites and blogs that claim to provide news, but virtually none of them even pretend to pursue the traditional news role of newspapers, which is to invest in professional staffs dispersed around a community and across the country or the globe to cover, analyze, and only then comment on, events.  Actually, all they do is comment.”

Yes, the Internet is indeed filled with wanna-be journalists and mischievous trolls who simply publish trite pablum or grossly reckless commentaries simply for the sake of getting noticed or causing a stir.  But mainstream publications produce more than their share of irresponsible drivel as well, such as this “investigative” article published in the San Francisco Chronicle or this doozy published in the Orange County Register.

The American public clearly isn’t impressed with the content produced by mainstream media: According to a September Pew Research survey, just 29% of Americans say that news organizations generally get the facts straight, while 63% say that news stories are often inaccurate.  But hey, even Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters like Kann apparently don’t have to let the facts get in the way of a good argument.

In truth, many of today’s bloggers are increasingly establishing themselves as authoritative sources of news and commentary in a variety of industries.  Blogging is not a mere trend; its advent has proven to be a significant mile marker in the evolution of mass communication.  Any organization that believes otherwise is deluding itself.  Brett Snyder, who pens the “The Cranky Flier,” airline industry blog, best personifies the new breed of blogger who most threaten the survival of mainstream journalism.

I’ve closely followed Snyder’s work for the past two years.  A former industry insider and self-professed “airline dork,” he is wise to the industry’s shenanigans and isn’t afraid to call them on it.  Brett’s readers also are remarkably well-informed and civil in their comments on his observations.  If you want to understand the airline business, “Cranky” is truly a must-read.

As for Kann’s dismissive claim that all bloggers do is comment, sometimes informed commentary is decidedly more valuable and insightful than the original “reporting” trumpeted by Kann.  To wit, Snyder’s initial post regarding the crash of the Air France flight from Brazil stood in stark contrast to the speculative reporting of mainstream reporters.  He derided the “million different theories” he had seen about what happened, cautioned readers that “none of the theories that keep being flung out there by the media seem to make sense on their own,” and forewarned that the true cause of the crash may never be known. By comparison, among the speculative stories published by the Wall Street Journal were this one, this one, and this one.  More than six months later, we still do not know what really happened.

Unlike a lot of mainstream reporters, Snyder isn’t above admitting he might have been wrong, as he recently did in a post discussing Virgin America’s announcement that it posted an operating profit (as he put it himself, he’s “been a harsh skeptic of the viability of Virgin America since the beginning”).  When is the last time you can recall a mainstream publication openly admitting without public pressure or the threat of a lawsuit that it may have gotten something wrong?

Snyder tells me that not one mainstream publication has ever approached him about a job.  Given that he lives in suburban Los Angeles, which is heavily impacted by the airline industry, you might expect the Los Angeles Times or Orange County Register would be fighting to scoop him up, but therein lies the judgment of the leadership of mainstream publications.  Hmm… is it any wonder the owner of the Orange County Register in September filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Blogging about airlines may be his passion but, like everyone else, Snyder needs to make ends meet.  To that end, he recently launched Cranky Concierge, an airline planning and travel problem-solving service that I wholeheartedly endorse.  Snyder recently figured out a way for me to fly business class from New York to San Francisco on my preferred flights for less than $250. Trust me: the guy knows his way around the system. And if anyone can solve your air travel dilemma, it’s him.

A tip of my hat to you, Cranky.  Dork or not, it’s conscientious bloggers like you that should have the mainstream media now reaching for the overhead oxygen masks…