One of the first and bravest experiments in stand-alone, direct commissioned journalism has come to an end with Christopher Allbritton, former AP and New York Daily News reporter, announcing the end of his reader-funded blog, written from the Middle East. Allbritton is more than a little disillusioned. Responding to criticism from both sides of the extreme Middle East debate, he writes in his sign-off:

Subtlety doesn’t seem to have much place in the blogosphere anymore, where you get the most attention and the most hits by putting out whatever half-assed opinion one can muster. You only have to shout loudly enough and play to whatever audience you want to get the attention. Blogging these days seems to resemble bad vaudeville rather than thoughtful commentary.

I never wanted that from blogs. I had a vision of blogs standing alongside the so-called mainstream media and being the garnish of a well-balanced media diet… but now, it seems the blogosphere has become more concerned with “gotcha” politics and “fact checking your ass,” mantras by armchair photo analysts who have no clue about what happens in a war or how photographs are made and distributed. They just want to score points in what seems to be, at best, a debating club rather than real life and death situations. Congratulations, your team won. Yay. People are still dead, you know. It’s happened in Iraq and it’s happened here, and I don’t really feel like being part of that culture any more.

When Allbritton’s blog began in 2003, it was hailed by commentators such as Jay Rosen as one of the ways of the future for good journalists. Allbritton had asked readers of his blog to send him to Iraq at their expense. He raised $14,500 from 342 donors and bought a plane ticket to Turkey, a Global Positioning system, a laptop and rented a satellite phone and digital camera. He snuck himself over the border into Iraq and began reporting. He drew up to 23,000 users to his site “thus proving,” said Rosen “that not that anyone in the public can perhaps be a journalist, but that anyone who is a journalist can have a mini-public on the Net.”

Three years later it seems that the toxic blogging culture has worn Allbritton down. It’s a sad day, and perhaps a caution for new media optimists.

But meanwhile another venture inspired by his work is now up and running. NewAssignment.net – a scheme in which the public, journalists and editors work together to commission and carry out investigative journalism — is up and running and has its first assignment. Check it out here.

Peter Fray

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