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How TPM, Bloggers Are Revolutionizing Political Reportage

Journalists and everyone interested in the political power of the internet have a must-read to clip over at the L.A. Times, Terry McDermott's "Blogs Can Top the Presses." McDermott's article is part tribute to Josh Marshall's cutting-edge political reporting and part meditation on the ways bloggers are transforming political journalism.

From McDermott's profile of Marshall's shop:

It's 20 or so blocks up town to the heart of the media establishment, the Midtown towers that house the big newspaper, magazine and book publishers. And yet it was here in a neighborhood of bodegas and floral wholesalers that, over the last two months, one of the biggest news stories in the country the Bush administration's firing of a group of U.S. attorneys was pieced together by the reporters of the blog Talking Points Memo.

The bloggers used the usual tools of good journalists everywhere determination, insight, ingenuity plus a powerful new force that was not available to reporters until blogging came along: the ability to communicate almost instantaneously with readers via the Internet and to deputize those readers as editorial researchers, in effect multiplying the reporting power by an order of magnitude.

In December, Josh Marshall, who owns and runs TPM , posted a short item linking to a news report in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about the firing of the U.S. attorney for that state. Marshall later followed up, adding that several U.S. attorneys were apparently being replaced and asked his 100,000 or so daily readers to write in if they knew anything about U.S. attorneys being fired in their areas.

For the two months that followed, Talking Points Memo and one of its sister sites, TPM Muckraker, accumulated evidence from around the country on who the axed prosecutors were, and why politics might be behind the firings. The cause was taken up among Democrats in Congress. One senior Justice Department official has resigned, and Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales is now in the media crosshairs.

This isn't the first time Marshall and Talking Points have led coverage on national issues. In 2002, the site was the first to devote more than just passing mention to then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's claim that the country would have been better off had the segregationist 1948 presidential campaign of Sen. Strom Thurmond succeeded. The subsequent furor cost Lott his leadership position.

Similarly, the TPM sites were leaders in chronicling the various scandals associated with Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

And the punch line:

All of this from an enterprise whose annual budget probably wouldn't cover the janitorial costs incurred by a metropolitan daily newspaper.

Kind of ironic that such an eloquent tribute to the power of a political blogger would appear in a newspaper, but there it is. Regretfully, nominees for Pulitzer Prizes for reporting excellence, which will be awarded in a month, must be newspaper employees under current rules. In a more just contest, Marshall and TPM would be a slam dunk for their influential reportage. It's way past time for the Pulitzer Board to create a new category that reflects 21st century journalism.

There are more quotable insights about political blogging and related issues in McDermott's excellent piece, but we've already excerpted a lot, so read the whole thing.