If I'd written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people - including me - would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism. ~Hunter S. Thompson
"Did you guys sit up here so you can throw things", I quipped to Amani, Amber and Rusty who sat on the front row of the Brown Room in the Commerce Club.
By nature, bloggers are a rough and tumble bunch. We are not insulated by brick, mortar, cubicle walls and layers and layers of editors and legal teams. Every day, we throw our stuff out to the world and expect to get some thrown back. Living in the harsh evolutionary world of online communities, we also instinctually give back as good as we get.
So, of course we sat on the front row.
We had gathered for the Atlanta Press Club's discussion on "New Media: The Changing Landscape". The panel consisted of Mark Bauer of WSB-TV, Lea Donosky of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Lila King of CNN Interactive and John Patton of ThePort network. Given this particular make-up, I placed the over-under of those sitting behind name cards understanding our world at 1. I really do not like losing. Good thing there wasn't a bookie around because I would have lost a bundle.
It didn't take long for the fireworks to start. The second question of the evening questioned the credibility of blogs. A hilarious sidenote. I discovered later the person who posed the question was not even a member of the press. According to friend standing nearby, she was a woman who just wandered in off the street because she was bored.
But no matter the source, there it was. The dreaded "c" word. The discussion became heated at times with such phrases as "gatekeepers" and "guardians of democracy" tossed around like poor hapless cows caught in a tornado. At one point, a person even painted bloggers as "entertainment". Hadn't heard that one before.
Then something interesting happened. The panelists interceded. Mark Bauer told a story of working at CNN in the early days when the network was not even allowed in the pool at the White House. Lea Donosky pointed out the first "citizen journalist" in this country was Thomas Paine. She even called out her fellow press members, including some of her co-workers, on certain pre-conceived notions.
It was difficult to say if minds were changed. Certainly, some of the stalwart defenders of the old ways were not swayed. It was hard to not be frustrated when someone who claims to be a "guardian of the truth" continued to repeat urban myths about the quality of new media. But, if the panel and the people who approached us afterward were evidence, the voices of disbelief and wariness continue to fall by the wayside.
And the conversation will continue. We in the new media will continue to challenge those in the traditional media. We will continue to agitate. We will continue to defend. We will continue to demonstrate we are more than entertainment. And we won't be hard to find.
We will most likely be the ones sitting on the front row.
You can hear a podcast of the panel discssion here.