Slouching Toward a Coddled and Toothless Blogosphere

Remember when blogs were going to be fiercely independent firebrands who, purified of old media insidery stench, would pull no punches against traditional power structures? So much for that. Today's laptop media is shaping up to be nothing but lapdogs.

Then again, even a poodle will bite once in a while.

Take the TechCrunch dust-up. The tech business blog sheepishly negotiated with Twitter Inc. the release of internal company documents it received, unsolicited, via email. It was tech bloggers who lead the craven charge, excoriating TechCrunch for daring to run anything at all. On Twitter, several of Arrington's tech elite colleagues said he deserved to be literally spit upon. John Gruber of Daring Fireball called Arrington "a very sad excuse for a man" in a post that garnered strong agreement from longtime newspaperwoman Kara Swisher at All Things D, who added, "there should be no difference between Web 'journalism' and the old-fashioned journalism." Except of course, Swisher was only demonstrating just how different the two are.

This episode's Woodstein was as distraught as anyone to see their dear friends at Twitter burned. TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington wrote: "I wish this had never happened."

But of course, as at least two media lawyers have pointed out, old-fashioned journalists have been utilizing information obtained in violation of both laws and legally-binding civil agreements for years without this sort of ethical outcry. As far as the law goes, it is legal to use such information to journalistic ends, within some fairly wide parameters.

Yet blogs, especially tech blogs, lash themselves oh-so-closely to their sources. TechCrunch is hardly the only example. The diverse and vibrant collection of blogs that track Mac rumors routinely cave to cease and desist letters from Apple, because who wants to end up like the teenaged publisher of ThinkSecret, bullied into submission by Apple for reporting legitimate news about Apple products, news that was proven accurate and was gathered no more nefariously than the stuff that turns up regularly in the Wall Street Journal?

Who wants to be trashed by a spoonfed CNBC reporter , or have your (eventually proven accurate) sources called "illiterate"-sounding by a blogger, for contradicting Apple's company line on the health of its CEO?

This is how journalism dies. Not with a bang, but with a series of favors and quiet surrenders.

(Top pic: Alison McNeill of bub.blicio.us and "Gadget Guy" consultant Dave Mathews engage in a typical in-depth interview at a TechCrunch party last year, via Flickr)