July 06, 2004

It's a Form of Social Media: Blogging AND Journalism

Blogging vs. Journalism has been done on the web and in on a million panels over the past few years, and it's pretty much been put to rest over the past two years, that it's not an either/or situation, but rather, something where blogs AND journalism need each other and interact pretty closely at this point, at least in an obvious way on the blog side, and in a more opaque way on the journalism side.

Blogs are not at all just one-way in their interaction, unlike journalism which is one way (though a couple of publications like Wired link out, and a few more have started, but it is extremely limited overall and they are still totally clueless about conversing with their audience so that doesn't happen much at all). It is the social interaction of blogs that makes them a conversation, a multi-way interaction, and while few journalism outlets link back, the public is discussing news articles whether journalists like it or not. Journalists can join in, or at least read their readers thoughts on the day the stories come out. Or they can ignore them and be unaware of the conversations as the occur, but it means they are out of the loop with their readers and other reporters who are online blogging and interacting with readers.

Trustability on the internet, particularly with regards to blogs, has been discussed quite a bit on the blogosphere and in traditional media. Basically, whenever any journalist makes a statement dismissing blogs as untrustworthy, they are generally dismissed, at least online, because first of all, blogs are tool, as is newsprint, and what you write is flexible. It can be accurate or inaccurate depending on the person or publication. But all anybody has to to say is "stephen glass" and "jayson blair" and the whole argument is moot (see Adam Penenberg/Wired's article from last week on New Media's Age of Anxiety which covers this issue of the public's ability with the internet to cover journalists and Fisk them if they get it wrong -- Penenberg has a pretty full list of examples of Journalists making things up, including the May 14, 2004 UPI story that references a poll on Journalists relative truthworthiness to other professions, a poll which he says doesn't exist. He was also the journalist at Forbes who broke the Stephen Glass plagiarism story to begin with as well. Also note in his story that he links to everything he can to support what he is saying -- practically a requirement for blogging, but also a form of social interaction, and not often done by journalists, though Wired is one of the few publications to do this -- and they should. I hope he's also checking out who links to his story to see what readers thought about it.)

As far as I am concerned, Doc Searls, Jenny Levine, Ed Felten, Donna Wentworth, Jay Rosen, Ernie Miller and Dan Gillmor are far more trustworthy and accurate in their blogs, and often sources of reporting, than the NY Times will ever be overall, for a couple of reasons. I'd take Ed's analysis of any copyright/security/DRM issue any day of the week of an NYT article on same. Reasons include: Firstly, if they screw up, they print a top of their blogs, an obvious mea culpa, that sits in the same spot on their blogs as the earlier piece they are correcting. Secondly, they have a body of knowledge and expertise that goes deeper than generalist reporters. And thirdly, they are absolutely upfront about their biases, letting readers decide how to take their assertions. Fourthly, their link to their sources to underlay their own authority. I could go on, but you get the point.

This is why I usually refuse to do news stories generally. Because almost everytime, I've been severely burned by inaccuracies by a generalist who is lazy about the big picture, going after something sensationalist instead of what is real -- taking the time to do something well so that the real story is shown for what is interesting about it or might be a bit complicated. Blogs often have to tell and retell, before trad media gets the hint, and then all of the sudden you see the reporters telling the real story in the mainstream press, but they do it as if they existed in a vacuum, with objectivity and no bias. So I find rules journalist's live by, editorial control, etc. to be disingenuous if held up as reasons why traditional journalism is better and more trustworthy than blogs. The bottom line is you are responsible for evaluating anything you read, no matter where it gets published. Doesn't matter if it's newsprint or online.

Also, the way we tell authority across blogs is not yet a set thing, and can include being a longtime reader, a personal recommendation from someone you trust, job status of the writer, inbound links, meme pushing, top 100 lists by other calculations than inbound links, posting history and context, etc. Additionally, to say that bloggers don't have to abide by any rules is false. Say something incorrect or dishonest on the internet, and the blogosphere will go after it with a vengeance and expose it. Matt Drudge already had a bad reputation before the Kerry intern thing, and now he is so dismissed. No one respects him and a lot of people removed him from their RSS readers and blogrolls. So there are far more severe corrective penalties, and far quicker, than what exists in traditional media. Again, it's the social, interactive form of this media, between blogging and journalism, that has led to this environment.

Regarding the issue of whether bloggers have editorial oversight, a few do, so it's not absolute as to what category of writer follows traditional rules, though most bloggers don't have editors. And most of the journalists I know spend most of their time with editors pitching stories, not getting editorial oversight on a finished story. In fact, Katie Hafner, among other journalists, shared a few stories with me, as she had turned them in, that I compared to what was published, and there was very little difference. To me the real issue here with journalists is an unwillingness to be transparent about sources (link to them!) and biases, and yet that attitude is sort of being unwound by blogging anyway, whether they like it or not.

The bottom line is people are fed up with bad journalism and so blogs are a nice complimentary addition to get additional information on a story, fact checking, and for adding more complexity to the discourse. It is because of linking, which is the basis for online conversation across blogs, and our ability to find those who links to us, that makes the blog AND journalism social media equation different than what existed before the internet, between journalism and the public. Journalism used to be a very one-way affair (despite letters to the editor which relied on a big time lag, and a different place for publishing the letters than the articles discussed in the letters -- front page verses page D9). Neither form, blogging or journalism, is a replacement for the other. In fact, they need each other and could not exist or live without each other at this point. Bloggers rely heavily on the reporting done in news stories, and Journalists often rely on stories bubbling up on the blogosphere -- for both framing and a pointer to sources and events. But far more important is the social interaction and increased quality of discourse that occurs now that the internet with the rapid interactive quality of personal publishing is possible with the social technology tool that is blogging, as it mixes with traditional media.

Posted by Mary Hodder at July 6, 2004 08:13 AM | TrackBack