Where Are The Gatekeepers?

Eric Fehrnstrom gives an account of what Republican candidates faced from netroots activists in 2008 and in closing asks:

Where are the online gatekeepers? Gatekeeping is the most important function for the offline media. Editors decide which stories get published. They make sure rumors aren’t printed. Sensitive information is double- and sometimes triple-sourced. Gatekeeping serves an important purpose in establishing the ethics of journalism. Sadly, it doesn’t exist on the Web.

What can be done? Citizen-journalists and bloggers need to provide links to websites that contain factual data backing up their assertions. These connections add credibility. And while Internet libel suits can be difficult to win, they should be pursued more often.
Moreover, it would help if TV and newspapers resisted the temptation to get edgier in their own reporting. If you can’t be “first” with the rumors, be first with the most comprehensive and factual account. In the current Wild West state of political reporting, you will be rewarded with loyal readership in search of honest and objective coverage.

He’s not entirely wrong, though I think it’s naive to believe that many bloggers and other citizen-journalists will put forth that extra effort to confirm the facts of what they’re writing before the jump.  And that no one expects it from the other side means they won’t raise themselves up to provide it on their side.  Fire with fire.  But we have got to break from that mold.

As the internet comes of age in how its used during campaigns, more and more people are going to be asking the same question though: where are the gatekeepers?  What has gotten blogging and online activism this far is the lack of a gatekeeper – thousands of voices shouting so many things that once in a while one sticks.  Or a bunch of people starting to talk about the same thing, creating a story where there wouldn’t be one normally.

The media has proven to be gullible to these tactics.  But they’re starting to get burned, and a lot of blogging talking heads who try to sound and act professional but end up putting their foot in their mouth are going to find themselves locked out.

Since blogging’s not about to go away, gatekeepers will emerge as people realize who make up the cream of the crop and those people are promoted.  These individuals will be the self-policiers who put function before form and seek out the facts before fame.

This may take time, though.  Blogging is still new in terms of impact on media and elections.  Everyone is still getting a feel for how it works and what place citizen-journalists hold in the conversation.

It’s up to the citizen-journalist to help properly define their role, not by words but by acts.