Here’s a great example of why blogs and the Web are gaining traction as much of the mainstream media lose steam.

Glenn Reynolds (a.k.a. instapundit) quotes a passage reportedly written by Al Gore:

Even if we give first priority to the destruction of terrorist networks, and even if we succeed, there are still governments that could bring us great harm. And there is a clear case that one of these governments in particular represents a virulent threat in a class by itself: Iraq.

As far as I am concerned, a final reckoning with that government should be on the table. To my way of thinking, the real question is not the principle of the thing, but of making sure that this time we will finish the matter on our terms. But finishing it on our terms means more than a change of regime in Iraq.

Now, this doesn’t sounds like anything Al Gore would ever say, at least it doesn’t sound much like the Democratic Party line today. If I were reading it in a newspaper, I’d assume it was taken out of context or otherwise distorted. Therein lies the beauty of the blogosphere: the magic of the link. The link (provided by the author) proves that Al Gore did indeed utter these words. Unless you doubt the veracity of the Council on Foreign Relations, you have implicit proof that what you’re reading is true and that it wasn’t taken out of context. At least you can decide for yourself if it was taken out of context. (If the words aren’t true, that information will also quickly circulate around the web.)

The attraction of linking to original sources speaks to one of the major problems with the media. So many people simply don’t trust what they read in the newspaper anymore. They assume that reporters and editors have agendas and sculp the news to meet their preconceived ideas. Blogs (from both the left and right) answer this underlying suspicion by fact-checking everything.

To compete, newspapers should adopt this tactic. Reporters should write their stories embedded with links to the information they’re citing. When stories are posted online, the links will be accessible. Print readers obviously won’t be able to make use of them, but they should be able to tell (e.g. different shade, bold font) that more information is available through the Web site.

The innovation will help reassure a readership that is increasingly skeptical of the role the media plays in serving as gatekeeper to the world. The Web allows information that was once proprietarily held by newspapers to be available to all. Ten years ago, readers would have had to rely upon the N.Y. Times’ condensed version of the CBS News Rathergate report. Today, anyone with a computer can read the entire document. Newspapers need to understand that no one accepts their words as fact in a world where those facts can be checked so easily.

Reporters and editors should respect their diminished role as gatekeepers of all information and embrace the new paradigm. Otherwise, circulation woes will continue to mount.