Elite Blogger: Rendezvous With Matthew Sheffield

If 2002 is what you witness as the beginning of blogging evolution then here is my guest Matthew Sheffield who was well-versed with blogs in 1999. When asked what invited his attention towards blogging, his ready response was: The informality, the lack of pretension, and the approachability of the medium are all things that appealed to me about blogging.

NewsBusters‘ can be seen as the brainchild of Matthew in alliance with Media Research Center focused upon critiquing the rest of the journalistic establishment. Read further to know more about this mainstream blogger, who has established an entity of a renowned ‘Media technology consultant’ for himself at blogosphere.

Matthew, introduce yourself to my readers and take us through your usual day at work.
I’m Matthew Sheffield and I am the creator of NewsBusters, which I run on behalf of the Media Research Center through my web consulting firm Dialog New Media. I came up with the idea of NewsBusters in 2005 after my work with RatherBiased.com which was dedicated to monitoring the reporting of Dan Rather of CBS. After Rather’s retirement, I figured it made sense to expand my efforts into critiquing the rest of the journalistic establishment so a partnership with the Media Research Center was only natural.

My typical day involves scouring the web for interesting stories, sorting through reader tips, and then blogging about stuff that interests me. I also file stuff away for a weekly column I just started writing for the Washington Times.

You are known to be the creator of the conservative form of blog sites. What led to the infusion of that spark within you and how would you define the term ‘liberal conservative?’
Before I got into blogging, I was working as a web designer and the online editor for my college paper. My brother Greg came up with the idea of doing a small web page about Dan Rather in 1999. With my background in web design, I wanted to make it a much bigger effort. As time went on after our 2000 launch, the RatherBiased.com site evolved into a blog almost instinctively for us. He’s since lost the political bug but I’m still bitten.

Liberal conservatism for me refers to a philosophy that realizes that there are some things that don’t need to change but that technology, exposure to differing cultural perspectives and experience are all things that we should partake eagerly of.

It also means being open to the idea that you don’t need to have a religious faith in order to be a good person or even to be a conservative. As someone who used to believe the opposite but now believes in no faith, I think that it’s important for people to realize that religion is a system of morality but that morality doesn’t come from religion necessarily.

You are known to be a politically minded and conservative person. Are these traits innate or developed during the course of time?
I don’t think politics is something one is born with. The average child thinks politics is boring and that is as it should be. Most of us tend to go along with the ideas that are presented to us whether by our parents, teachers, and friends. There is a lot to be gained from such encounters but in order to be fully actualized I think it requires one to examine all externally provided beliefs against those of others that may think differently.

When did you sense an inclination towards blogging? Are you satisfied with the functionality of the blogging eco-system or think there is a need for revamp?
I pretty much was blogging before there was a word for it. For me it came more naturally as an easy way to report news and express opinion on the web. The informality, the lack of pretension, and the approachability of the medium are all things that appealed to me about blogging.

I think the blog ecosystem tends to get too specialized. It’s important to engage the arguments of those with whom you disagree but on the other hand it requires more effort. I think there is room for more pan-ideological blogs which try to blend things together to foster conversation. Unfortunately that requires money and most liberal and conservative donors/groups are (probably rightfully) not interested in that so this is an area that I think that traditional MSM can fill.

How far NewsBusters is successful in offering immediate exposure of liberal media bias and neutralizing it?
Over the past three years since our launch, we’ve launched a number of stories into the national media conversation, everything from Hillary’s sniper fire, Chris Matthews’s leg thrills to just regular live TV snafus. We’ve had an impact but I will leave that to others to assess to what degree it is.

Point us to other active players in the industry practicing the similar web revolution?
A few other places I think are doing some innovative things are the Huffington Post, Pajamas Media, and Talking Points Memo.

Do you still realize the need of corrections in news media reporting? If yes, which are those?
Being accurate and fair in your reporting is the most important thing a journalist or blogger can do.

Blogs Or Media Sites. Which out of these two is more successful in maintaining the transparency and criticism expected out of media as an institution?
That depends on the site. Both bloggers and regular journalists have varying degrees of ethical standards. One thing where blogs do have somewhat of an edge is that other bloggers are less-inclined to believe you if you make assertions w/o providing evidence. Big media outlets do this on a routine basis.

The reach of your conservative media blog RatherBiased.com penetrated to an extent that it became the first Website that Google pulls up if you search for ‘Dan Rather.’ What all ingredients do you count for its unmatchable success?
It helped to have ‘Rather’ in the domain name but also that we produced a lot of content and marketed it effectively.
Tell us about your association with Dialog New Media. How does it functions and enables you support conservatives and libertarians?
Dialog New Media is a political marketing firm whose purpose is to help clients maximize the ‘bang for buck’ when it comes to messaging. We’ve found that in the Web 2.0 age, the internet is the most effective way of driving regular media because blogs are so important within newsrooms throughout the country. That’s not to say, however, that traditional media outreach and PR techniques don’t have their place. They most certainly do. The way marketing has been conducted has changed irrevocably. Luckily for us, a lot of our competitors haven’t figured that out yet.

What is your take on Traditional Journalism V/S Contemporary Journalism V/S Blogs Evolution?
I’m of the opinion that blogs are what you want them to be. If you want your blog to be a news reporting publication than you can easily do that. Unfortunately in the early days of blogging there was a widespread attitude among older media professionals that blogs were written by unemployed people lounging around in their pajamas.

That attitude exists today more than it should but by and large the ‘old media’ has learned the lesson. Every big media organization has many blogs as part of their web portfolio and most journalists consider blogs an essential part of their media diet. Lots of traditional media outlets have begun hiring bloggers in traditional positions. The New York Times hired a TV news blogger to cover the television business for it, ABC News hired former Salon.com blogger Jake Tapper as an on-air reporter, Time magazine hired a gossip blogger to be part of its Washington bureau and a number of papers such as the Hill, London’s Guardian, and my paper the Washington Times have hired bloggers as columnists.

The main conflict today in my view is that old media institutions haven’t become as transparent with their political viewpoints as they should be. While it is admirable to try to remove your personal perspectives from your coverage, a lot of times it’s just not possible. No one is that dispassionate and without a personal history. Bloggers admit that they’re human beings with perspective. Most journalists haven’t been willing to do so yet. They should.

Tell us about your ‘must-read’ or favorite blogs?
A few blogs I read regularly (besides ones I’m directly affiliated with): Ace of Spades, Patterico, FreeRepublic, Daily Kos, Matt Yglesias. There are lots of others I read on a slightly less regular basis.

Provide us with your five favorite posts you have written to date.
1. One of my favorite things to do is to get big media figures and turn the spotlight onto them. They specialize on doing it to others but oftentimes don’t like to be the subject of attention. I was able to do that with Chris Matthews a few years ago when I caught him being hypocritical on the Valerie Plame story by ignoring it after news broke that sort of shattered his grand conspiracy theory about the Bush Administration. The story got up on Drudge and that same day, Matthews broke his hypocrisy.

2. One of the more pervasive questions on the political right of late is how to modernize our public outreach mechanisms. I wrote on that last month that technology isn’t the savior that some people say but rather savvy, principled leaders at the top.

3. I’m also interested in giving wider currency to stories that got missed in the hustle-and-bustle of the news cycle. Here’s a post I wrote about how former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan changed his book from what he originally intended it to be, a defense of the president.

4. Another post illustrating the same spotlight-on-big-media approach I mentioned earlier involves an exchange I had with liberal PBS reporter Tavis Smiley who had made a series of offensive remarks about Republicans, never apologized, and then was amazed that many of them didn’t want to show up to a debate he hosted in 2007. I asked Smiley about the remarks since I knew no liberal journalist would do so.

5. This post chronicling how CNN science reporter fell asleep during a hearing about global warming presided over by Senator James Inhofe was a favorite of mine as well.

Your favorites:
1. City: Miami
2. Music: String quartets
3. Food: Too many to list
4. Book: War and Peace
5. Gadget: Smartphones
6. Color: Green
7. TV show: TBS’s ‘Burn Notice’

What are those principles that blogosphere needs to learn from mainstream media or vice versa?
Bloggers should do more original reporting and research. MSM need to be more forthright about their opinions and be more transparent about their sourcing.

How would you like to be known as?
1. Media Critic
2. Blogger
3. Entrepreneur
4. Liberal conservative
5. Writer
6. Media technology consultant

I prefer #6
Your post on Vanity fair’s Blog Map points to Vanityfair’s selection of blogs residing across four verticals viz. News, Opinion, Scurrilous and Earnest. If Matthew is asked to handpick one blog topping each vertical, which one would those be?

Within the political sphere, I would do it as follows:
News: Instapundit
Opinion: Matthew Yglesias
Scurrilous: Huffington Post
Earnest: Outside the Beltway

Where do you see the future of Blogosphere?
The future of blogs is synergy. There will continue to be personal blogs but more and more people will find out that banding together to produce content is a lot easier way to gain an audience. The MSM will continue to absorb, copy and read blogs. The number of ‘A-list’ blogs will decline as consolidation happens. If Obama wins, right-leaning blogs will become the most popular. If McCain wins, left-leaning ones will stay on top.

Quick bites:
1. Hours you invest digging net: somewhere between 4-8 hours daily

2. Biggest blogging mistake you did: Holding back from reporting on the Dan Rather CBS document story soon enough. We followed the story as it was breaking on FreeRepublic but did not want to report it until we had solid proof that CBS had been tricked. We would have retained our credibility had CBS not been tricked but we could have navigated the line a little better at first.

3. One hidden truth: People who specialize in original analysis and reporting are the people who do best in the blog world.

4. If asked to post only on one blog (neither NewsBusters nor MatthewSheffield), which one would that be? Probably Ace. He’s a friend of mine and a very sharp writer and political analyst.

5. Advice you would have given yourself five years ago? Think outside the box. There are so many opportunities out there for people who simply think of them.

6. Life without Internet: Very inconvenient!

7. Count of professions you have been into: 5

8. First post you have written: I wrote a very basic update to RatherBiased.com detailing how Dan Rather was once convinced that the George Bush 41 presidential campaign was behind the Gennifer Flowers accusation that Bill Clinton had an affair with her.

Whom would you recommend as my next EliteBloger and why?
I’d recommend talking to Josh Marshall of TPM. He has built an impressive web entity without the millions of Huffington.

Give us your views on EliteChoice.
It’s a cool site.’ Your interview series is quite divergent and wide-ranging.

Your turn! You can ask me one question. Where is my free coffee mug?
Well, you deserve more than a free coffee mug for fetching time and feeding my readers with such lovely responses. No I owe a treat to you.

We thank Matthew once again for accepting our invitation and penning down informative set of responses.

Matthew Sheffield

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