July 19, 2004
For Connoisseurs of High Church Condescension, Alex Jones on Bloggers at the Convention
Let's Be Clear, say Alex Jones and the Los Angeles Times, "Bloggers Are the Sizzle, Not the Steak..." My response: do your homework. Don't recycle.
Alex S. Jones, of Harvard’s Kennedy School, a former reporter for the New York Times, and a biographer of newspaper families, writes in the LA Times (July 18, 2004) on what distinguishes blogs at the upcoming convention in Boston:
Political conventions have become festivals of faux harmony and candidate image-building, which makes them marvelous targets for blogging’s candor, intelligence and righteous wrath.
Now here’s Jones on the bloggers “air of conviction” and how this makes them targets of manipulators, and potential dupes:
In these early days, blogging still has the charm of guileless transparency, which in the blogosphere means that everyone — no matter how cranky or hysterical — is presumed to be speaking his or her mind with sincerity. It is this air of conviction that makes bloggers such potent advocates.
It’s all there in the LA Times: Bloggers Are the Sizzle, Not the Steak: Convention seats do not turn Internet gossips into journalists. I would love to know what others think, so hit the comment button and speak.
Alex Jones is someone I know from professional conferences and other discussion settings. I have also been interviewed by him. He’s a fine person, a serious man, with deep knowledge of his craft, willing to stand up and be counted when it comes to protecting professional values. I respect his opinion, and his experience. But that analysis Sunday is beneath his standards and the standards he saw himself as protecting in the Los Angeles Times. I say so for many reasons; I will list three.
The weblogs invited to Boston aren’t about to displace or ruin journalism and they are not the triumph of Matt Drudge. Plus, I doubt most of the authors care who’s considered a “real” journalist by the High Church. They’ll do their thing, and it will probably complement what the press corps is doing, not as sizzle is to steak, or gossip is to hard information, but as F Sharp is to C Major. Some will tune in to that, most will not. If it were possible, if it were legal, and if it were cheap, I would attach an audio link at this point: Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Seems to capture the mood here.
UPDATE, July 20: Rebecca Blood in comments here, and Markos Moulitsas Zúniga of the Daily Kos in comments here, both ask: why bother criticizing Jones? (Blood: “This is just a fluff piece, jay, I’m surprised you even bothered to comment on it.” Kos: “Who cares what some joker journalism professor wrote?”)
It’s a fair question. I guess it depends on whether you begin from a position of respect for Alex Jones, for the Los Angeles Times, for the editor of its opinion pages, Michael Kinsley, for Harvard’s Kennedy School where Jones is installed, and for the journalism establishment, in which Jones is a go-to guy for comment on press issues. Institutions matter. Rebellions against the authority, timidity, blindness and arrogance of institutions, or the individuals who head them— those matter too. And when those two things talk to one another, or at least about one another, that also matters.
I’m not a “typical” blogger in the sense of being an outsider or amateur who gained voice for the first time after starting a weblog. I already had a platform of sorts as a J-school professor (and current head of the NYU program.) I had a track record as a press critic and published author before I started PressThink. You might say I am part of the establishment myself; after all, I have a job within it. And my Department at NYU certainly participates in the credentialing and professionalizing of journalism.
Because I participate in both worlds—the press establishment and the self-publishing revolution represented by blogging—I feel I should interpret one to the other. I pay attention to all the points where these worlds connect. And it bothers me when a representative figure like Alex Jones is permitted such a low standard of argument. It bothers me when he plays to the ignorance and prejudice some journalists show toward the upstart bloggers.
The world works through institutions, and institutions are embodied by the individuals who speak for them. If you feel it’s important to argue with the establishment (and some may not), the way that is done is by engaging speakers from it. But there’s a simpler way of putting it. On this subject, I am part of the loyal opposition to Jones and those who think as he does. I am also loyal to the webloggers and what they are trying to do, which is to invigorate the press.
“The people who will invent the next press in America—and who are doing it now online—continue an experiment at least 250 years old,” I wrote in the introduction to PressThink. I want Alex Jones to understand that, and the next time I see him, I will try again.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links….
Earlier at PressThink: Convention Coverage is a Failed Regime and Bloggers Have Their Credentials (July 7) and If Religion Writers Rode the Campaign Bus…(July 16)
REACTIONS TO ALEX JONES…..
Jessie Taylor at pandagon.net has some thoughts on Mister Jones: “I was under the impression that being a journalist turned you into a journalist, not an invite to somewhere to get “behind the scenes”. It sounds tautological, but the point is remarkably true - the person who presents the fact check on an erroneous editorial or article is, honestly, as much a journalist as the person who wrote it.”
Dave Pell also has a reply at Electablog:
Jones assumes that the giving out of media credentials marks a moment of blogging legitimization. While I’ll admit that my mom is pretty impressed by the fact that I got a media pass, I personally think the millions and millions of readers, including many of those in the mainstream press, legitimized blogging more than the Democratic Party’s very smart marketing decision. And second, who says bloggers want to be journalists (assuming we can all even agree on what a journalist is) or that the issuing of credentials turns them into anything other than bloggers who have a ticket to the Fleet Center?
Glenn Reynolds has a tart response (and lots of links): “ALEX JONES writes that press credentials don’t turn bloggers into journalists. True enough. Of course, neither does a paycheck from the New York Times or NPR.”
Joe Gandelman, an experienced journalist-turned-blogger, puts it down to resentment over the dues-paying weblog authors have not done. He also has a good round up of reactions.
Matt Welch: But Bloggers Aren’t Journalists!!, Take 94:
It takes the issuance of credentials by a friggin’ political party to confer status on people who have built huge audiences from scratch and invigorated the mediasphere by writing for free? What a warped view of journalism.But should blogging displace traditional reporting and journalism, as some in the blogosphere predict it will, then the steak will have been swapped for the sizzle.
Jeff Jarvis, The byline makes the man? On “it’s better to have both.”
Well, precisely. And the way to have both is not to dismiss and dis these newfangled weblog thingies, to act self-superior to them, to annoint yourself the priesthood and keep the rabble out of the catherdral. The way to have both is to listen. Join in the conversation, Alex. Read what bloggers are saying about what you said about them.
Take a stance against interested writing… Zephyr Teachout, former director of Internet organizing for Howard Dean, in comments at BOP News:
I would like to see all credentialed bloggers will agree not to write about anyone who is paying them, at least for the duration of the convention.
JD Lasica speaks directly to Jones:
Jones also props up the myth that legions of bloggers want to replace mainstream journalists, when what they really want is to be brought into the conversation.
Jeff Goldstein @ protein wisdom: *Alex S. Jones is director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Not that that makes him better than you, just that—well, okay. So maybe it does make him better than you… “
Dave Winer bought a new domain name and created ConventionBloggers.Com: A community site for bloggers participating in the DNC, July 26-29. One potential use of this site is that delegates blogging and bloggers who are credentialed could find out about each other there.
Practical philosopher and blogger Peter Levine has two posts I commend to convention bloggers and watchers: Does anything happen at a convention? (July 19)
Once you think about it, a modern convention is fascinating, and something does happen there. But its interest isn’t accessible if you look at politics in conventional terms, as a contest between two teams with contrasting personalities and proposals. From that point of view, it’s unclear why reporters should cover the conventions at all…. But what if we see politics as ritual, spectacle, tradition, or even “convention” (in the broader sense)? Then we can ask: What do these ceremonies mean? Why do they linger past their original purpose?
Peter Levine, what’s interesting about conventions (July 20)
Political scientists and reporters typically try to explain politicians’ behavior by assuming that they want to get elected and re-elected, or that they want to enact particular policies. But this analysis begs the question of why anyone would want to hold public office in the first place…. to a large extent, I believe they want to participate in our public rituals. They want to hear someone announce them: “LAY-dies and gentlemen, the next great mayor of our magnificent city … ” They want to watch balloons rise up in a great hall when they take the podium. They want to cut ribbons and kiss babies and get interviewed on Nightline. All this means that different people would enter politics if we had different rituals.
Posted by Jay Rosen at July 19, 2004 3:46 PM Print
this is just a fluff piece, jay, I'm surprised you even bothered to comment on it. it's just an example of the kind of defensiveness scott rosenburg noticed in 1999.
I don't think I've seen one "bloggers-at-the-conventions" article that hasn't annoyed me; for that matter, the bloggers who are prophesying a great breath of fresh air due to their presence are just as bad. it's absurd to comment on what bloggers will do at the political conventions because they haven't done it yet.
fwiw, my impression is that the parties themselves are looking at the bloggers as adjunct PR people more than as journalists. it will be up to the bloggers to determine what, if any, value they bring to the parties and/or their readers.
Posted by: rebecca blood at July 19, 2004 4:06 PM | Permalink
But ... but ... there's no news there in the first place! (to a first approximation).
You couldn't tell the difference between a hypothetical big-J Journalist, and a faux, eratz, "journalist", because in this case there's essentially nothing to distinguish them.
This event is bloviate-fest. It's blather-time.
There's no information to falsify!
Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at July 19, 2004 4:36 PM | Permalink
Bloggers are going to get treated like crap by journalists at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. They are going to get yelled out, disparaged, elbowed, subject to dirty tricks and "practical jokes" and otherwise put on notice that the "press" wants them run out of town on a rail. Prepare for posts focusing less on what is happening at the convention and more on what is happening to the Bloggers at the convention.
Posted by: Robert Cox at July 19, 2004 4:43 PM | Permalink
Isn't this just fear masquerading as indignation?
Posted by: Terry Heaton at July 19, 2004 4:53 PM | Permalink
When I read the quote by Tom McPhail about bloggers ("They're certainly not committed to being objective. They thrive on rumor and innuendo..."), I thought it was part of a joke about the sorry state of the (non-blog) media. I had to read the paragraph a couple of times before I realized that there was no punchline.
"Convention seats do not turn Internet gossips into journalists." I may be more cynical than most, but I would also argue that being printed in a newspaper does not turn a gossip into a journalist, nor does being in front of a camera.
Posted by: Mike at July 19, 2004 5:45 PM | Permalink
Blogging will displace most print journalism for two reasons -- immediacy of reporting and you see what you get. No 24hrs to spin the cycle. It's all in the dry cycle all the time.
Prediction: By 2008, any candidate that does not factor in the blogs in the primary cycle will be toast before the convention.
Posted by: JohnM at July 19, 2004 8:53 PM | Permalink
The train has left the station.
Posted by: Pj at July 19, 2004 9:10 PM | Permalink
At some point it's going to real tired when a social sphere that defines itself in terms of rankings on a site called "technorati" complains about elitism.
Isn't that kind of hypocrisy Ingraham's schtick?
Posted by: panopticon at July 19, 2004 9:15 PM | Permalink
Given the sorry state of newspaper reporting these days (e.g., the New York Times and the LA Times and their reporting on the Bremer speech in Iraq, the reporting on the prison abuse that was covered in the blogs long before the news got to it, and the really biased reporting as witness the headline content vs the article content) the weblogs are really doing better reporting than the media is. Look at the coverage of the Hutton report and the Butler report. Look at the coverage of the 9/11 Commission hearings. What was on the major media bore no relation to what went on at the hearings. The coverage leaves out whole phrases that change the meaning of what was said. The coverage of what Bush said in his SOTU address vs what was reported is another example.
The fact that the reporters cover only the doings in Baghdad in the Iraq war or the Falujjah problems instead of even mentioning what is going on in the rest of the country. The blatant coverage of the prison abuse vs the one day mention of the beheading of innocent civilians and reporters is another example. If it were not for the blogs the people would never hear any of this stuff. The schools that are restored and built, the medics and what they do for the people, the elections that have been held in 80% of the country, the soccer fields and playgrounds built, the equipment the military has asked for and received without the government being involved. The major media covers none of this and the people have a right to know what is done in their name under wartime conditions. To read the major media one would think all our soldiers are pillaging and raping and abusing the civilians all over the place. Is that what the media calls news and thinks is all we need to know. Then we definitely need the bloggers because they are the only ones who tell us what is really going on.
Posted by: dick at July 19, 2004 9:34 PM | Permalink
The bias discourse is not a plea for fairness, but an expression of the demand "not to know".
The calls for "good news" are purely reflexive expressions of willed ignorance.
Hope that clears things up for you, Dick.
Posted by: panopticon at July 19, 2004 9:53 PM | Permalink
There is the implication that *real* journalists have better quality control than bloggers. That they are interested in truth while bloggers are interested in innuendo and nonsense.
Which bloggers is he talking about.
Oh, and which journalists?
Bloggers are today providing an important function for those of us who use it: news that is filtered differently than by the relatively monolithic national media. They are providing first hand accounts of many events - I read soldier blogs from Iraq, and Iraqi blogs, and I learn different things from them - often things which contradict the reports filed from a reporter in Baghdad.
I would rather surf blog-space and find articles with known origin and known bias, than read the New York Times or AP and wonder which stories they spiked that I care about. Besides, most bloggers bring various areas of expertise unlikely to be found in a newsroom, because they have a job outside of blogging.
As far as the convention goes... yawn. The only news that may happen inside is a food fight between the "journalists" and the "bloggers." Outside, somewhere in the area, will be demonstrations. They will at least be visually interesting ( especially if ProtestWarrior infiltrates them ), and you can bet there will be photobloggers present.
Lets have some bloggers in the White House press briefings and other places where events happen.
Posted by: John Moore at July 19, 2004 9:53 PM | Permalink
Who in "the blogosphere" has predicted this[blogging displacing traditional reporting and journalism]. Who? No really, who? Has anyone predicted this, let alone "some"?
I believe I've seen (read) Dan Gillmor expressing concern that it could happen. But I doubt that anybody actually _wants_ it to happen.
I'm glad Zephyr Teachout is addressing Jones's "conflict of interest" concerns. I wish there was less blogospheric kneejerk retaliation to the Jones piece (which I haven't read - excuses being registration and laziness) and more consideration of what useful perceptions could be gleaned from it. There _are_ structural problems with the weblog movement - the frequently fierce independence, the lack of consensus, the lure of $$, the fragmentation that means no single cohesive culture that could provide a means of encouragement/"enforcement" - that will make it difficult for clear ethical standards to be widely adopted.
Please prove me wrong.
Posted by: Anna at July 19, 2004 10:03 PM | Permalink
Only an idiot sees an unbiased media. A scan of many blogs brings the world into focus, not overnight, but we have time.
Posted by: Mark Keaney at July 19, 2004 10:10 PM | Permalink
Jones should read yesterday's Frank Rich column.
My blog on the Jones article here.
Anna, I can't answer about the prediction, but there is someone that experimented with it. The experiment did not allow clicking on links, which I'm not sure that bloggers write with that kind of reader in mind.
Some bloggers provide valuable content by "refracting" the underlying reporting through a lens of media literacy. Not bias crusading, per se, but by recognizing the framing, "crept in" bias and structural bias and presenting the story with a different lens.
That may not be journalism, but it seems more valuable than the "Matt Drudge-ness" stereotype [sigh].
I also wonder how much this is history repeating itself, another press-radio war?
Wouldn't that be a compliment to bloggers?
Posted by: Tim at July 19, 2004 10:51 PM | Permalink
mw: "Who in "the blogosphere" has predicted this[blogging displacing traditional reporting and journalism]. Who? No really, who? Has anyone predicted this, let alone "some"?"
anna: "I believe I've seen (read) Dan Gillmor expressing concern that it could happen. But I doubt that anybody actually _wants_ it to happen."
The question: which will be more authoritative in 2007, weblogs or the New York Times? Perhaps surprisingly, Martin Nisenholtz, the CEO of New York Times Digital, went for it, and today the bet is public.
In 2007 we will ask an objective third party to tell us what were the top five stories of the year, each reduced to a single word or phrase. Then we will look up the phrases in Google. (Assuming Google is still here five years from now, and still high integrity.) If three or more of the top links point to the NY Times, Martin wins. If three or more point to weblogs, I win.
Posted by: rebecca blood at July 19, 2004 11:56 PM | Permalink
The question: which will be more authoritative in 2007, weblogs or the New York Times?
Yes, the world needs more competition between authoritarians.
Posted by: panopticon at July 20, 2004 12:09 AM | Permalink
I also wonder how much this is history repeating itself, another press-radio war?
Yes, the warlike tendencies of "the bloggers" would certainly be a refreshing change in this time of unbearable peace.
Posted by: panopticon at July 20, 2004 12:28 AM | Permalink
I respond to Jones's piece here with my take:
I find it interesting that Jones finds that bloggers "don't add reporting to the personal views they post online" at the same time that one could fairly conclude he didn't do much reporting at all in preparation for this op-ed (which is really nothing more than an unlinked blog post -- unintentional irony is so much fun).
Posted by: Chris Geidner at July 20, 2004 1:08 AM | Permalink
But pan, peace kills (buy the book) and statistics lie.
Which reminds me: Bloggers, for your own safety, please don't "front" the journalists at the conventions.
Posted by: Tim at July 20, 2004 4:45 AM | Permalink
UPDATE added to post, July 20: Rebecca Blood in comments here, and Markos Moulitsas Zúniga of the Daily Kos in comments here, both ask: why bother criticizing Jones? (Blood: "this is just a fluff piece, jay, I'm surprised you even bothered to comment on it." Kos: "Who cares what some joker journalism professor wrote?")
It's a fair question. I guess it depends on whether you begin from a position of respect for Alex Jones, for the Los Angeles Times, for the editor of its opinion pages, Michael Kinsley, for Harvard's Kennedy School where Jones is installed, and for the journalism establishment, in which Jones is a go-to guy for comment on press issues. Institutions matter. Rebellions against the authority, timidity, blindness and arrogance of institutions, or the individuals who head them-- those matter too. And when those two things talk to one another, or at least about one another, that also matters.
I'm not a "typical" blogger in the sense of being an outsider or amateur who gained voice for the first time after starting a weblog. I already had a platform of sorts as a J-school professor (and current head of the NYU program.) I had a track record as a press critic and published author before I started PressThink. You might say I am part of the establishment myself; after all, I have a job within it. And my Department at NYU certainly participates in the credentialing and professionalizing of journalism.
Because I participate in both worlds--the press establishment and the self-publishing revolution represented by blogging--I feel I should interpret one to the other. I pay attention to all the points where these worlds connect. And it bothers me when a representative figure like Alex Jones is permitted such a low standard of argument. It bothers me when he plays to the ignorance and prejudice some journalists show toward the upstart bloggers.
The world works through institutions, and institutions are embodied by the individuals who speak for them. If you feel it's important to argue with the establishment (and some may not), the way that is done is by engaging speakers from it. But there's a simpler way of putting it. On this subject, I am part of the loyal opposition to Jones and those who think as he does. I am also loyal to the webloggers and what they are trying to do, which is to invigorate the press.
"The people who will invent the next press in America--and who are doing it now online--continue an experiment at least 250 years old," I wrote in the introduction to PressThink. I want Alex Jones to understand that, and the next time I see him, I will try again.
It will be many years, maybe decades before bloggers are equated with journalism, in my opinion. Why should they? Because you say so?
I have yet to speak or hear in-person any political topic where a blog was used as a supporting reference.
People will use the TV, newspapers, magazines, for their "official" information. Blogs might trigger some new thoughts by readers, but most people will find vindication or repudiation of those thoughts in established forms of media.
In the meantime, it is sort of interesting to see freedom of speech take on new and powerful forms in and of itself. Just don't expect the majority of people to be swayed by blogs.
Posted by: Donald Larson at July 20, 2004 11:46 AM | Permalink
Can I ask a more ground-level question, amid all the Grand Punditry?
How do Paid Full-Time Journalists regard convention gigs, is it a plum or a hassle?
Is Alex Jones upset in some way that prime spots of some sort are being handed to those who in his view somehow didn't earn them?
Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at July 20, 2004 1:57 PM | Permalink
OK, here's a blogger v. press/journalist test.
How many will have read the Platform prior to the convention?
Posted by: Tim at July 20, 2004 2:46 PM | Permalink
Seth: I suppose some--especially if they have never been before--regard it as a fun assignment. Most who have been before see it as meaningless and a bit of a drag because there is so little news and so many competitors for it. But they like seeing old pals.
Bloggers did not take seats away from the mainstream media, no. Many news organizations are sending fewer people this year, so they're the ones "taking seats away."
If I had to guess, I would say that Alex Jones was reacting to the New York Times editorial finding "reason to hope" that "this year's one potentially risky innovation — accepting dozens of free-form online bloggers as accredited convention journalists — may lace the proceedings with fresh insight..."
If my hunch is right, he's not talking to bloggers at all, about whom he knows very little. It's priest-to-priest dialogue: "You're giving them too much credit."
Donald: Who expects "the majority of people to be swayed by blogs?" I don't. Who's waiting eagerly for the day when "bloggers are equated with journalism?" I'm not. I appreciate being told these hopes are not realistic, but whose hopes are they? Do you know? Or just picking them out of air?
"Donald: Who expects "the majority of people to be swayed by blogs?" I don't. Who's waiting eagerly for the day when "bloggers are equated with journalism?" I'm not."
"I appreciate being told these hopes are not realistic, but whose hopes are they? Do you know? Or just picking them out of air?"
There are a number of bloggers who think that what they have to say is just as effective as an established reporter from a major news media outlet making a claim. A blogger has every right to try to get their voice heard. But when they complain that they are not taken seriously to the same extent, then I wonder why they are amazed at that reality.
I think blogs are great for gaining information that is unavailable from other sources. True, much of that informatiuon is biased and often unsupported by facts. Sometimes a reader will read a blog and see that it is mere propaganda. Sometimes a reader will change his/her mind over what they find there.
Until the time comes when bloggers are used as sources and a primary way a person acquires information to make real life decisions, then it remains a myth that bloggers are journalsists to the same extent that a reporter from a major news outlet is.
I suspect that after the DNC is over, there will be bloggers complaining about how they were treated unfairly and unequally. That the major news outlets didn't give them the credit they deserve, they were shut out, blah-blah-blah.
And most people will pay no attention to them as they do now as far as making serious political decisions based upon what they read there.
My prime example is Scripting News and many of the links pointing to other bloggers from that site. Show me a New York Times poll, CNN poll, Fox News poll, or Gallup Poll where someone's major political decisions in life are based upon what they read on Scripting News or any other prominent blog versus the major news media and you'll have the proof both you and I seek to invalidate our views of blogs as "swaying forms" of communication.
Posted by: Donald Larson at July 20, 2004 4:02 PM | Permalink
Many words about "is blogging journalism" and someone's quest for authenticity.
Blogging is a very modern phenomenon. How it meshes with journalism is not yet determined. It is democratic, meaning anyone can put up a blog that anyone else can read. The practice of linking, either from within articles or in blogrolls, is simply unlike anything in traditional journalism. Likewise, the comment capability is also unlike traditional journalism. Comparing it to a “letters to the editor” column misses the immediacy and lack of censorship.. The ability to add multimedia, although not that common on blogs, is yet another distinguishing feature.
On top of this are various organizing and measuring systems, from the blogrolls to the TTLB ecosystem, to whatever else comes along. In addition, like journalism, blogging is sometimes supported by advertising.
When you put all of this together, and consider the other internet enabled powerful technologies that nobody has thought of yet, communication, including the dissemination of news, rumors, PR, propaganda, and specialty information is still in a very fluid state. If the long forecast, never achieved, synthesis of television and the internet happens, the possibilities multiply even more. Likewise, the creation of truly useful electronic tablets or books (which just has to happen, somehow) will cause other dramatic shifts.
To compare blogging to journalism, first you have to throw out 99.9% (or more) of blogs. Most blogs are either small group centered (a family, a hobby, an area), opinion blogs or just plain dead. But some blogs commit some form of journalism - for example, The Command Post, which strives to be second with any headline (i.e. the members watch a multitude of news sources, especially during a crisis, and link to articles). TCP has a blogger press pass for the convention for one of the founders.
On-site blogs, for example Iraqi blogs, allow mere mortals without press passes and flack jackets to get different perspectives on the situation there. Following Zeyad's tribulations when a US patrol drowned his cousin provided a view that you would never find elsewhere. Likewise, soldier blogs have a lot of interesting, first hand information (one time I emailed a JAG lawyer who has a street-side office in Tikrit to clarify a little bit of the Laws of War - got a good answer back). Try that with the Baghdad Times or whatever.
There are also blogs that do a better job of analysis than I find in any news outlet - for example USS Clueless
There are meta-blogs, like Instapundit, for which I know of no journalism equivalent, but which has obvious journalistic value.
There are specialty blogs, which either originate reporting or take existing reporting and expand on it or create it - for example, the MilBlogs ring, which adds military expertise (and contacts in the field) to stories from normal journalism.
There are advocacy blogs, like mine (a “war blog”) which have a journalistic purpose primarily as part of the advocacy. For example, I have done some original “reporting” – for example proving a story from the Arizona Republic to be mostly incorrect. This example raises a question, btw… what is it when you discover and report an accurate story, but you include advocacy language in the report? It is presenting true information, but it doesn’t adopt the neutral voice. And what happens when you find that the professional journalist completely botched the story?
An interesting and important phenomenon is blog comments. These allow the information source and those interested to interact, and sometimes producing (depending on the commenting community and the host blogger), good information, insights and quality. My favorite opinion blog, Roger Simon's is interesting because the blogger is a professional writer (screen and mystery novels), and in addition to interesting posts he has a comment section in which substantive and reasonably high quality debates happen - the comment section becomes, in effect, a community. Journalism? Only if Roger gets original information, but that does happen. He must be doing something right - his blog was attacked by the LA Times this weekend.
There is also the effect of opinion blogs attacking the working press for both bias and errors. This seems to be starting to have an effect, at least in some of the more egregious cases (such as the LA time chastising Paul Bremer for not giving a farewell speech, 5 days after Paul Bremer gave a farewell speech that was well reported on an Iraqi blog).
The question is: which parts of journalism are missing from some of these blogs [note - as a non-journalist, I can't really list the functions, and my brother is out of town]? Fact checking is not initially provided, and if the source has original information, fact checking may be impossible. On the other hand, the Arizona Republic story I demolish in the example above clearly had no fact checking applied to it. This was an issue of trust when Zeyad first reported his cousin's fate, and it took some time (and the effort of a number of bloggers) to verify most of his story. The rest was verified by military investigators.
Other sites which are secondary sources of news, if they are at all popular, will have errors challenged in the comments (if they allow them).
Editing... there is no second person to fit the story to size, clean up the writing, catch bad English, or spike the story. That problem, though, is self limiting by the reader "market." Write a bunch of crap, loose your readers.
Prioritizing - above the fold? Buried in the middle? Again, the market decides. Some bloggers are more reliable in their judgment than others.
Distribution - the market decides, with the help of technologies such as RSS aggregators (a technology that is a hint of the future, especially when regular journalism outlets provide RSS feeds).
Blogging isn't going to replace regular journalism. Its main impact will be among people interested in the issues and news, which includes decision makers and journalists. As the internet evolves, and newer generations join the workforce, whatever is in the internet will become steadily more important, whether it is blogging or some distant grandchild of it.
On the other hand, journalism is approaching blogging in its publication of opinion as news, and it’s other biases. Where trust ends up, with current trust in traditional journalism around 25%, is an open question. Already, I encounter many individuals who, because they know (correctly) that the main stream media is biased against their viewpoint, are starting to believe unsupported conspiracy theories and other nonsense. That is a severe price our society is paying for the monolithic traditional media bias. Blogs, of course, feed off of that lack of trust, as they offer an alternative.
There are going to be lots more experiments. In fact, I’m sure there already are lots I haven’t stumbled across.
With this complex, interacting social and technological system, the future is impossible to predict
Posted by: John Moore at July 20, 2004 4:48 PM | Permalink
That was a very good post.
Portions of it about the War in Iraq aren't important to me. For instance what some blogger in Iraq says is pretty meaningless to me. I let my elected leaders deal with those matters.
Someday we will be gone from Iraq and it won't matter anymore. Americans will have other concerns to focus on by then.
I'm in favor of people expressing themselves using different media. I like the idea of blogs "end-running" the typical news outlets. But I keep the perspective that those insights, suggestions, lies, propaganda, etc., aren't going to move me because they carry little weight to do so.
Instead I get an opportunity to read many things that otherwise I never will hear in public, even if I knew the bloggers in-person. People for the most part say things in blogs they don't say in public. Hence one more reason why blogs carry so little weight with me.
Posted by: Donald Larson at July 20, 2004 5:16 PM | Permalink
Jay wrote: "[Bloggers will] do their thing, and it will probably complement what the press corps is doing, not as sizzle is to steak, or gossip is to hard information, but as F Sharp is to C Major."
I wonder what complimentary function the AP has in mind by setting up what seems to be a press corps blog at the convention?
Posted by: Tim at July 20, 2004 5:25 PM | Permalink
James Madison, do you have instituitional credentials? Or should I take what you say with a grain of salt? ... which I do anyhow since you are advocating the fallacy of "appeal to authority"...
... and why not take *everyone* with a grain of salt?
I think this is the real fear of journalism, not blogging being considered on their level, but " "journalism" being considered on the same level as blogging instead of getting automatic (and very often unjustified) respect. 4 years of college and a paycheck just means you have better opportunities and fewer excuses, not that you are worthy of instant respect. Everybody still has to get by on their own merits; those who live this are doing and will do fine. Those who are coasting on their "credentials", well, I don't lose sleep over their fears.
Anecdotally, I know someone from my high school who has a journalism degree and job. Their writing painful to read, full of cliches and almost bereft of information; my rough drafts in small textboxes on the web, minus some spelling errors and typos, are much better at communicating information. The "credentials" don't really change the person.
Posted by: Jeremy Bowers at July 20, 2004 6:16 PM | Permalink
Until the time comes when bloggers are used as sources and a primary way a person acquires information to make real life decisions, then it remains a myth that bloggers are journalsists to the same extent that a reporter from a major news outlet is.
For this to be a myth, there would need to be people who believe it to begin with. I can't really recall anyone claiming that "bloggers are journalists to the same extent that a reporter from a major news outlet is."
That said, there's an interesting question contained in that phrase "to the same extent." Is the problem people are having the result of the fact that while some blogs may be journalistically equivalent in practice to traditional media, they are not equalivent in audience?
Posted by: The One True b!X at July 20, 2004 6:49 PM | Permalink
The True Oneb!X said:
"For this to be a myth, there would need to be people who believe it to begin with. I can't really recall anyone claiming that "bloggers are journalists to the same extent that a reporter from a major news outlet is." "
"Someone in the audience says: real journalists have editors behind them. I disagree with that. If you're the owner, publisher, editor, and only reporter of a small town newspaper is that not journalism? If that owner goes out and hires a reporter and takes on the sole role of editor did this act magically make the journalists? Is the word "journalism" reserved for only sophisticated organizations with lots of money? I don't think so. On the other hand, I don't particularly care if anyone thinks what I do is journalism or not. The label is unimportant."
It seems clear to me that Dave thinks size doesn't matter and maybe he's right. But does he have a majority of people who support his claim? I don't think so.
"That said, there's an interesting question contained in that phrase "to the same extent." Is the problem people are having the result of the fact that while some blogs may be journalistically equivalent in practice to traditional media, they are not equivalent in audience?"
That may be closer to the real issue. The larger the audience, the more likely people are using the information to make decisions; that's my opinion. I have no scientific proof of that.
Let's see what happens at the DNC next week. Will some blogger rock the convention with a revelation so strong that it takes center stage and forces the major news networks to focus on it?
Posted by: Donald Larson at July 20, 2004 7:58 PM | Permalink
Is blogging poetry?
Posted by: Phil Wolff at July 20, 2004 8:55 PM | Permalink
Can an analogy for blogging, as it relates to journalism, be in found a hobby like Amateur Radio?
This is a lobby requiring licensing based on demonstrated knowledge and skill. It is practiced by professionals as well as laypersons.
It has often led industry and academia while drawing its talent from both. It has regulatory "space" to experiment and excel, but it also competes and must fight not to loose its identity or resources (and gain new ones).
One of the distinctions is that there are clear norms and standards for both the professional and amateur, whereas there is not in journalism.
Does that allow more room for factionalism?
Posted by: Tim at July 20, 2004 8:59 PM | Permalink
And it bothers me when a representative figure like Alex Jones is permitted such a low standard of argument.
Well, isn't the circumstantial ad hominem you just lobbed at Alex Jones a "low standard of argument"?
It's convenient for internet boosters to have establishment figures like Jones around, because they can then attribute *any* criticism to establishment defensiveness and ignorance. That is called CultThink.
Posted by: panopticon at July 20, 2004 9:13 PM | Permalink
Don, the comment you use there doesn't support the argument that ""bloggers are journalists to the same extent that a reporter from a major news outlet is." It only supports the idea that bloggers can be journalists of some sort. The real myth here is that people are running around saying "blogging is journalism! blogging is journalism!" without any nuance to it. Repeating that particular myth is what allows so many people to dismiss the question of blogging and journalism out of hand. If one describes the debate as between "blogging is journalism" versus "blogging is not journalism" the entire conversation goes nowhwere and it's just alot of posturing.
That said, I think we are getting closer to the more interesting question when you follow one of my remarks with, "The larger the audience, the more likely people are using the information to make decisions; that's my opinion."
There's something of a "tree falling in the woods" aspect to the blogging and journalism debate, I guess. You can be performing an act which by all acounts when looked at in and of itself is an act of journalism, but if some portion of a larger world around you isn't making any use of it, does it matter? And just how large does that "portion of a larger world" need to be to be considered in this light?
These are not, incidentally, questions I have any answers for, although they do have something of a direct and as-year-undetermined relevance to what I do.
Posted by: The One True b!X at July 20, 2004 9:19 PM | Permalink
Where's my editor, dammit?! ;)
Posted by: The One True b!X at July 20, 2004 9:20 PM | Permalink
Okay, I happen to think that a blogger is doing the same work as a journalist. Some bloggers are better than others in documenting and researching their work. The same is true for larger organizations.
It seems to me that blogs have yet to be "culturalized" into society to the same extent as newspaper, magazines, radio, and of course TV.
I think it's because most people don't spend that much time on the Internet. When they do spend time, it's likely they spend more of it on sites other than weblogs. In some ways, a weblog is a limiting factor, especially if it allows comments that can fork a message all over the map.
Like Dave Winer, I like the idea of RSS. I like it because it straightens the pipe of getting information to me in a form of my choosing. I can rearrange and filter a RSS file if I choose, I can't rearrange someone else's weblog.
Someday weblogs may have more of an impact than they do today. For now, most people already have long-standing habits of getting their information from traditional ways. Those habits are hard to break.
Bloggers are cutting trails, no doubt about it. But those trails grow over rather quickly because they are less traveled and not often noticed.
Posted by: Donald Larson at July 20, 2004 9:28 PM | Permalink
The One True b!X,
I couldn't find a quote to directly substantiate my claim. The one I used was the best example of expressing that size doesn't matter. I agree it is lacking in strength below 100%. :-)
But your reply is more to the point. I agree it's a matter of perception within a certain size population.
I made my own "confession" about blogging above. I don't know what else to say.
Thanks for helping to make the argument clearer.
Posted by: Donald Larson at July 20, 2004 9:35 PM | Permalink
There seems to be a myth that bloggers don't have sources. But many bloggers do, and Tim's mention of ham radio brings to mind one way that happens. The ham radio community is, in a sense, infiltrated into most organizations. Ham operators have connections, and that means sources. In the same way, bloggers are often people with connections - from their work, their hobbies or their blogging.
I know that this year I have a number of sources of accurate and somewhat interesting information on several topical sources including John Kerry and the war in Iraq. Lots of bloggers do.
So bloggers sometimes commit journalism. I would argue that when this "amateur truth finder" showed that a story in the Arizona Republic was mostly false, that was some kind of journalism. That only a few people read and commented on it means nothing about the future.
But few bloggers with any sense would claim to be engaged in journalism all the time. I have an opinion blog. I write opinions in it, and people read them and comment. It is more of an op-ed function.
A blogger isn't hindered by column-inches or minutes. The full story can be presented, with links providing context and background information. In that sense, blogging as a technology is superior to traditional media. Add in some changes in display technology (electronic books or paper), and one might find digital newspapers, where trained journalists use some of the techniques of blogging to add value to their stories.
As this medium evolves, and new technologies and social conventions accompany it, blogging or its successors will increase in importance. Already, one can learn where to go for certain kinds of analysis in blogspace. RSS aggregators (and their future technologies) will improve this.
The amateur radio analogy is interesting, but I don't see carrying it too far. Amateur radio requires a license because it is using reserved chunks of radio frequency. It has several levels of license largely as a result of a late '60s push by the ARRL to force amateurs to improve their technology and morse code skills.
Bloggers don't need a regulatory space, which also means that no system of quality control involving government coercion is likely.
I think the best model is that of emergent systems. There are a lot of small units of varying characteristics and linkages - each one a blog. The group forms one or more emergent system, from which unpredicted organization will emerge.
Another way to look at it is that blogging happens to be a remarkably popular technology for using the internet for vanity publishing, discussion communities, and interlinked networks.
It isn't the last technology. Many forms are being tinkered with, and pretty soon new ones will become popular.
What will not go away is individual publishing, networks of information, and interactions between these technologies and journalism.
James Madison, I don't know if you are a troll or actually believe what you spout. In either case, you are acting like a buggy-whip maker in 1900.
Posted by: John Moore at July 21, 2004 1:13 AM | Permalink
Bloggers are journalists. But there are plenty of journalists who aren't reporters.
Reporters are something different. Reporters do things that are interesting and boring. They go to school board meetings. They go to city council meetings. They hang out and jabber in coffeeshops and bars. They go into ghettos and interview crime victims and get mugged themselves. They develop contacts among low and mid-level civil employees. They know everybody, especially the marginal folks, the regular people who tip them off to what's happening. They are social nomads traversing the urban topos.
Blogging is journalism, but it ain't reporting unless you're doing that shit. Tediously deconstructing the latest NY Times Iraq story? Sure, that's journalism. But it ain't reporting.
Anybody can do journalism. But reporting has always been a hyperlocal, person-to-person specialty. And some deranged c-level mainstream media dipshit from TV Guide didn't invent that.
Blogging? Unless you're in the thick of it, it's all yadda yadda yadda.
Posted by: panopticon at July 21, 2004 2:10 AM | Permalink
" that people are running around saying "blogging is journalism! blogging is journalism!" without any nuance to it."
"Over the past few years, the outlines of a new form of journalism have begun to emerge. Call it participatory journalism or one of its kindred names -- open-source journalism, personal media, grassroots reporting -- but everyone from individuals to online newspapers has begun to take notice."
Which then begets hype like:
"In the 2004 election, the boys (and girls) on the bus have been joined by a new class of political arbiters: the geeks on their laptops. They call themselves bloggers. Their mission: to remake political journalism and, quite possibly, democracy itself. The plan: to run an end around big media by becoming publishers on the Internet."
Sure, there IS some nuance. Absolutely. But plenty of fluff too.
Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at July 21, 2004 7:12 AM | Permalink
Look, it's a silly argument. Some blogs really are hard journalism, some are basically editorials, and others are ridiculous fluff. The same is true of the traditional media: Some do hard journalism, others write editorials, and others do ridiculous fluff.
It's just not that complicated. As in all things, some blogs are great - and others suck.
Two more thoughts: 1) Would people stop calling Matt Drudge a blogger? He's not. There's no blog anywhere on his site. 2) If you're interested in checking out a new form of blog, come on over to BlueOregon.com, a 23+ contributor blog for progressives in Oregon (mostly editorial, not hard news.)
Posted by: Kari Chisholm at July 21, 2004 7:13 AM | Permalink
Would panopticon, who interestingly is now invoking the language of Authenticity without using the word, consider that the digital world is developing its own locales and topoi, worthy of the labor and tedium of actual reporting?
Posted by: tom matrullo at July 21, 2004 7:29 AM | Permalink
Sure, but when you're faced with incessent uncritical appeals to authenticity, sometimes you have to make the semantically violent gesture of repeating the rhetoric of authenticity to shake things up. And it works until somebody comes along and points out that's what you're doing. Thanks. Thanks a lot. Thanks for nuthin!
Posted by: panopticon at July 21, 2004 8:40 AM | Permalink
Kari - you're completely correct. The word "blogging" is like "writing", and some of these debates are like asking "Is Writing Journalism?".
I think the question being asked here is better rendered: "Are These People Worth Listening To, And Do They Deserve Any Respect Whatsoever?"
Because "worth" and "respect" are very complex and slippery terms, and connect deeply to institutional power.
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