September 22, 2004

Blogging and the Future of Journalism at ONA Last Night.

I gave a talk on this topic: Blogging and the Future of Journalism last night at ONA in SF. It was only 10 minutes, followed by Editor, Jackson West and then a few questions.

I addressed what I think has just become the present of journalism and blogging: the social relationship and conversation in a severely collapsed time frame, online, between journalists and bloggers. The extended entry has my notes that I used to frame this for myself beforehand, but I did not cover them completely. What matters is that the Dan Rather/CBS story kills the notion that bloggers are antagonistic or separate from journalists. That's not to say that there is love all around. What I mean is that while bloggers have an ethic around their work that often includes some agenda, but also is about iterating ideas and issues, and journalists have an ethic of objectivity, in order to report facts and issues, so each of their goals are not necessarily always the same, the new working relationship by bloggers interested in news stories, and journalists who get blogs and online conversation, is extraordinary.

I know, you're a blogger or a blog reader. You're thinking, I've been seeing this in one form or another for a couple years. Big deal. But ONA is a conservative organization, and I think, reflective of the rest (and most of) the population that doesn't participate in blogs, and it seems important to take a second to highlight how extraordinary this new (for the last couple of years) social interaction is. Clearly many journalists, including CBS/Dan Rather, still don't understand it. It's foreign to them. You have to realize, we are ahead of the curve, that's ahead of the curve, that's ahead of the curve here... with RSS and aggregators, with understanding the social interaction between bloggers and journalists because we participate in it on some level, with online queues for communicating that people who haven't spent time online don't see -- what's happening in some ways is invisible to them.

The conversation between bloggers and journalists is new and radical. And the CBS/Dan Rather story takes things to a new plateau, where bloggers participated in a feedback loop with journalists who get it. Both sides participated in fact checking each other. And both sides riffed on each other's work, analyzing, investigating further, making journalism of different sorts, from one writer to the next. However, the common factor was they published online, they connected to each other via links and their websites, and they did it damned fast.

Aside: last night, Paul Grabowicz from UCBerkeley's JSchool told me that for journalism students are suddenly saying, gee, I think I need to know about this blog stuff because of the CBS case.

What would have happened if the memo's were discovered to be fake 4 months from now? What would have happened if the memo's were seen as fakes by CBS and others who published the original story, but the answer was simply to publish a letter to the editor or a correction on D17 as would have occurred 10 years ago? It would be the same old scenario we've tollerated for years where incorrect information is front page and corrected in the back, and people are cynical about the media.

What's different here is the social interaction, the ability to connect to people, to see what matters so fast, analyze it, moderate the more useful up, moderate the not useful down, in a group fact checking process.

Last night, after the talk, one person asked me how this was any different from Usenet discussions from 10 years ago. What's changed and why does this matter? In other words, he posited, it's nothing new. I agree in a way, but I strongly disagree in another. It is discussion by people, readers or audience, right after some news article goes online, or TV, and yes the timeliness factor is similar. But newsgroups can go off topic, writers don't "own" their words in the sense that they are publishing in their own "house" or blog, for everyone the see, search, look up links and see links out to sources and others. It's a change in tools that may in a way be relatively minor, but the effects of the increased attachments of words to a single writer/blogger, and the ability to see that persons words on their site, attributed to them that in some ways is dependent on this presentation, causes readers, and journalists, to react differently. It feels different. I would make the analogy to telegraph communication verses phone communication. Usenet feels like a series of telegrams, but blogs feel like a phone call.

I believe this new level of cooperation and interaction, as embodied by the CBS case, is not early-adopter-new, in that we've seen a few smaller examples of this before. But CBS is the case that signals the sea-change of a new standard, a new understanding, and shifts the interaction from those people who are so far ahead of the curve, to those less literate with online conversations. This new cooperation causes journalism from both professional news organizations and bloggers to be seen as a conversation, as productive and useful and symbiotic. It's a chance to break out of the cynicism and frustration the audience has felt for years by not being able to effectively converse with those reporting news. Neither blogging nor journalism is going away. They can't live without each other. They need each other, and the CBS case makes it clear that we have a better news world because of the cooperative conversation they make together.

Notes for the talk:
I think the future is right now.... it's this week... being demonstrated in the blogosphere and in online news...
--- it's a process and a relationship...
--- it's social...
--- it's a conversation between bloggers and journalists..

You know parts or all of this story...
I want to emphasize the process and relationship...

Three ideas to review...

1. The Dan Rather/CBS story puts the final nail in the coffin that blogs are antagonistic or separate from journalists

2. blogs cooperated to make analysis and news, with journalists who understand this new symbiotic relationship

3. fact checking -- another layer because traditional journalists talking about process and editing..

--- blogs accelerate the fact checking to a tremendous degree
--- blogs were the first ones to bring public criticism
--- blogs winnowed weak criticisms from the strong ones
--- -- between the right wing, looking to knock down the memos
--- -- left wing looking to knock weak arguments
--- Note: Bloggers can have different agendas and that's okay in the the blogosphere, whereas journalists are not supposed to, they have different ethics policies...
-------bloggers are allowed to have any ethics though they may be moderated down in the discussion if their words are not useful or valid, -------while journalists are supposed to abide by an ethical standard of objectivity and fairness

so the story continue...
---- experts' reviews were considered by both journalists and bloggers
---- Howard Kurtz -- and his column in the WDC Post led the way in mainstream attention
---- and Michael Dobbs led the way in investigation
----- took the ball from the blogosphere and ran with it,
----- they have money, put together experts, talked to sources, and got access to CBS news, and when they sent questions, there was an official CBS response which a blogger might not have gotten
--- bloggers took what the Post did, and continued the second round of fact checking, and started to put the pieces together..
--- Boston Globe spoke to an expert, that a blogger had already spoken to and written up this expert's work...

-----The Boston Globe screwed up their work because of misleading heading:
------ saying there the expert backed up the authentication of the story
------but really, that expert was skeptical..
------and wanted to reconsider some new information...
------but since the Boston Globe said it ...
------the bloggers took on the title and the story differences
------ Boston Globe was corrected by bloggers,
------ The Globe then ran a correction on the headline

SO, blogs are part of the fact checking process, and it's a developing iterative process, how bloggers and journalists can cooperate in the fact checking process...

fact checking goes both ways....

-because blogs need to be fact checked,
-so newspapers followed on with more fact checking of what bloggers came up with,

It might have come out.. but it might have taken months...
after the original 60 Minutes story came out,
other newspapers printed the news with no skepticsm...
so if the blogosphere hadn't fact checked,
would there have questioned it in the traditional press....

Stupid to talk about blogs vs. journalism.. because it's not an either or situation..
but this story does prove that it is a symbiotic relationship

Everyone needs to be fact checked...
when the right puts up something the left will fact check,
when the left puts up something, the right will,
there are rational people on both sides.. Josh Marshall said, hey, these are some pretty good arguments on the right, about the memos, and we should look at this...

Fact checkers will be on both sides,
and have agendas
but the hardest fact checking will come from the opposite side..
but its still a symbiotic ... relationship

If CBS had recognized the contribution that bloggers had made,
they would have come out looking good...
If they said they had just made a mistake..
but the test for any of us in any profession
not just journalism
is how do you fix your mistakes,
so if they'd been as diligent about fixing the mistake as they were about getting the story..
they would appear more credible and legitimate...
they even ignored criticism from the Washington post and NYTimes..
they had both published that morning
when Dan Rather talked Friday night..
so while CBS ignored bloggers,
they also ignored the Post and Times...

---- CBS should have been able to look at all the activity, the press and, and the bloggers, and say hey, something is wrong... and do more fact checking...

Where as the WDC Post has come our really well...
in this new world and with these new relationships
they recognized the importance of journalistic ethics,
but they knew evidence was there...
they only wrote and investigated because the information was there....
even though bloggers gathered it and analyzed it....

Instead, CBS is still saying "we can't prove they are authentic"

What's key is this recursive behavior:
-where journalists put out information,
-bloggers fact check, information is filtered and the best information rises,
-journalists fact check bloggers and report again,
-bloggers follow on with more investigation and fact checking
-and on and on.

It's what should have been going on all along, pre-Internet,
but we haven't had the tools to be able to collapse the time it took to do this,
or the space between people, to make this possible,
until now, where these tools and publishing platforms were made
to connect information and people on the interent,
to allow people to participate in the journalistic process.

Before, it would have been a small correction a week later,
a letter to the editor,
or months later a realization that in this case, the documents were false.

But now, with blogging and journalism operating in a symbiotic process,
we can realize information analysis, fact checking and correction very quickly.

Posted by Mary Hodder at September 22, 2004 08:40 AM | TrackBack