January 21, 2005
Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over
"I have been an observer and critic of the American press for 19 years. In that stretch there has never been a time so unsettled. More is up for grabs than has ever been up for grabs since I started my watch."
This is the essay I wrote for the Blogging, Journalism & Credibility conference Jan. 21-22 in Cambridge, MA. (Participants.)
Bloggers vs. journalists is over. I don’t think anyone will mourn its passing. There were plenty who hated the debate in the first place, and openly ridiculed its pretensions and terms. But events are what did the thing in at the end. In the final weeks of its run, we were getting bulletins from journalists like this one from John Schwartz of the New York Times, Dec. 28: “For vivid reporting from the enormous zone of tsunami disaster, it was hard to beat the blogs.”
And so we know they’re journalism— sometimes. They’re even capable, at times, and perhaps only in special circumstances, of beating Big Journalism at its own game. Schwartz said so. The tsunami story is the biggest humanitarian disaster ever in the lifetimes of most career journalists and the blogs were somehow right there with them.
The question now isn’t whether blogs can be journalism. They can be, sometimes. It isn’t whether bloggers “are” journalists. They apparently are, sometimes. We have to ask different questions now because events have moved the story forward. By “events” I mean things on the surface we can see, like the tsunami story, and things underneath that we have yet to discern.
That’s why we’re conferencing: to find the deeper pattern, of which blogging and journalism are a part. So that is what I give you: my best attempt at scratching out a pattern.
I have been an observer and critic of the American press for 19 years. In that stretch there has never been a time so unsettled. More is up for grabs than has ever been up for grabs since I started my watch. And so it is fortunate that we meet next week on blogging, journalists and the social dynamics of user trust. For this is an exciting time in journalism. Part of the reason is the extension of “the press” to the people we have traditionally called the public.
By the press I mean the public service franchise in journalism, where the writers and do-ers of it actually are. That press has shifted social location. Much of it is still based in The Media (a business) and will be for some time, but some is in nonprofits, and some of the franchise (“the press”) is now in public hands because of the Web, the weblog and other forms of citizen media. Naturally our ideas about it are going to change. The franchise is being enlarged.
It was a sign of the times for everyone watching when on January 1, Dan Gillmor, a participant in our conference, and one of the most respected technology journalists in the country, quit the San Jose Mercury News, and quit Knight-Ridder, for a grassroots journalism start-up, funded not by any media company but two entrepreneurs in the tech biz, Mitch Kapor and Pierre Omidyar.
For years, Big Journalism had been losing great people when they ran out of room for their ideas. It was believed that these losses did not threaten the enterprise. Gillmor was gone because he had reached the limits of professional press think. The journalism he was interested in developing lay outside the capacities of a traditional media company. He left for the same reason Mark Potts, co-founder of WashingtonPost.com, is starting a hyper-local news operation where the content is to be citizen-provided.
But then it’s the same reason newspaper editor John Robinson of the News & Record in Greensboro took up blogging, formed ties with the local blogging culture, and announced a shift in direction toward open-source and participatory journalism at his newspaper, which will mean gambling on a whole different kind of online operation. (See his column to readers about it.)
They all sense it, what Tom Curley, the man who runs the Associated Press, called “a huge shift in the ‘balance of power’ in our world, from the content providers to the content consumers.” If there is such a shift (and Curley didn’t seem to be kidding) it means that professional journalism is no longer sovereign over territory it once easily controlled. Not sovereign doesn’t mean you go away. It means your influence isn’t singular anymore.
Orville Schell, dean of the University of California at Berkeley’s journalism school and a conference participant, told Business Week recently: “The Roman Empire that was mass media is breaking up, and we are entering an almost-feudal period where there will be many more centers of power and influence.”
When 90 percent of the op-ed style writing was done on actual op-ed pages, editorial page editors had sovereignty over that region of public dialogue. With blogging and the online space generally, that rule is gone. Opinion in reaction to the news can come from anywhere, and the bloggers are frequently better at it than the sleepy op-ed page ever was. Newspaper op-ed pages can still have influence; they can still be great. But they are not sovereign in their domain, and so their ideas, which never anticipated that, are under great pressure.
When Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and a figure in the news, wants to speak to fans, players or the community, he doesn’t do it through the reporters who cover the Mavs. He puts the word out at his weblog. For the beat writers who cover the team this is a loss; Cuban hardly deals with them anymore. Here, however, the balance of power has shifted toward a figure in the news, once known as a source. A weblog helped shift it. (Blogs of a corporate executive, and an officeholder who have done the same.)
If my terms make sense, and professional journalism has entered a period of declining sovereignty in news, politics and the provision of facts to public debate, this does not have to mean declining influence or reputation. It does not mean that prospects for the public service press are suddenly dim. It does, however, mean that the old political contract between news providers and news consumers will give way to something different, founded on what Curley correctly called a new “balance of power.”
Others have seen the change coming. In a 2003 report, New Directions for News said, “Journalism finds itself at a rare moment in history where … its hegemony as gatekeeper of the news is threatened by not just new technology and competitors but, potentially, by the audience it serves.” The professional imagination in Big Journalism wasn’t prepared for this.
Armed with easy-to-use Web publishing tools, always-on connections and increasingly powerful mobile devices, the online audience has the means to become an active participant in the creation and dissemination of news and information.
Meanwhile, the credibility of the old descriptions is falling away. People don’t buy them anymore. In 1988, 58 percent of the public agreed with the self-description of the press and saw no bias in political reporting, according to the Pew Research Center. (And that was regarded as a dangerously low figure.) By 2004, agreement on “no bias” had slipped to 38 percent. “The notion of a neutral, non-partisan mainstream press was, to me at least, worth holding onto,” wrote Howard Fineman of Newsweek, Jan. 13. “Now it’s pretty much dead, at least as the public sees things.”
Big Notion death was a theme in journalism in 2004, coming not from the margins but the middle. Geneva Overholser of the Missouri School of Journalism, former editor of the Des Moines Register, former ombudsman of the Washington Post, said it:
This was the year when it finally became unmistakably clear that objectivity has outlived its usefulness as an ethical touchstone for journalism. The way it is currently construed, “objectivity” makes the media easily manipulable by an executive branch intent on and adept at controlling the message. It produces a rigid orthodoxy, excluding voices beyond the narrowly conventional.
If objectivity, once the “ethical touchstone for journalism,” has finally collapsed, then we have conditions resembling intellectual crisis in the mainstream press. Steve Lovelady, managing editor of Campaigndesk.org, and a former editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, agreed that the press in 2004 “was hopelessly hobbled by some of its own outdated conventions and frameworks.”
When people like Fineman, Overholser and Lovelady—who are elders of the tribe, and products of its recent history—are saying about a key commandment “that’s over,” and “our belief system has collapsed,” we can assume the causes are deeper than some spectacularly blown stories or the appearance of more nimble competitors. Loss of core belief is related to loss of editorial sovereignty.
“The paper doesn’t have a voice.”
“I live in Winston-Salem,” begins a blog post from Jan 13, which I submit as material for the conference. Jon Lowder writes:
I have the Winston-Salem Journal delivered every morning. But I don’t feel like I know anyone there. The paper doesn’t have a “voice,” at least not one that I can hear. The closest thing to its voice is the editor’s column in the op-ed section.
The problems of finding a believable voice are fundamental in Big J journalism today. Jon Lowder admitted that one reason the Journal seemed so voice-less to him was the juxtaposition with the Greensboro News-Record, which had begun to reach him from the next town over through weblogs he read. (There are five and he subscribes to them all.) These he received via the wire service of the blog world, known as RSS, a truly disruptive technology for the news business. (See this.)
“I get all of the N&R blogs via RSS,” Lowder said. (It stands for real simple syndication.) “I don’t get their paper… yet. But I still feel closer to the N&R, and in a way I feel it is my hometown paper.” And this is what his post is about: not blogging, or RSS, or journalism, but a shfting sense of “hometown paper” for the user. Lowder explains how the Greensboro paper (see my reports on them here, then here and here) has infiltrated his world. “It would probably pain the editor at the Journal (I have no idea what his/her name is) to know that I feel like I’m on a first name basis with the editor of the Greensboro News & Record (Hi John!).”
That would be John Robinson. With his Editors Log he is talking to Winston Salem more often than the newspaper editor in Winston-Salem does. Lowder speaks of the News & Record coming to him, while the Journal site just sits there, static.
I hear from the N&R several times every day, all via their blogs. I hear from the Journal in the morning and that’s it… As a result I know more about Greensboro’s city council than I do about Winston-Salem’s. So for now I’d say that the N&R is my hometown paper. It’s not too late for the Journal, but they better act fast or it will be. I’d love to write the editor and share some ideas… anybody have a name for me?
Distributed journalism. Open Source journalism. Citizens media. Citizen journalism. We media. Participatory media. Participatory journalism. These are the new names for the discussion that first grew up around blogging. Steve Outing of the Poynter Institute noticed it:
The earthquake and tsunamis in South Asia and their aftermath represent a tipping point in so-called “citizen journalism.” What September 11, 2001, was to setting off the growth and enhanced reputation of blogs, the December 2004 tsunamis are to the larger notion of citizen journalism (of which blogs are a part).
The cartoon dialogue
Chris Willis, co-author of a key report, We Media, said in a recent interview with a Spanish journalist: “What is the most unsettling thing for media professionals is not change but how the change is happening and where it is coming from. Change is not coming from traditional competitors but from the audience they serve. What could be more frightening?”
And some of that fear had crept into bloggers vs. journalists, making it a cartoon dialogue. One reason I jumped at the chance to do this introductory essay is that I felt I had some hand in creating what John Palfrey of the Berkman Center called (in his letter inviting me) the “totally inadequate language that is used like a blunt instrument to describe both journalism and blogging.” (See this PressThink post, and this one.)
Included in that is the simple, tempting and ultimately useless question: are bloggers “real” journalists? To put it that way is unnecessarily antagonistic. But it’s worse than that. It’s reductive, and smart people have been calling it that for years. Scott Rosenberg, managing editor of Salon and a technology-aware writer, said it back in 2002:
Typically, the debate about blogs today is framed as a duel to the death between old and new journalism. Many bloggers see themselves as a Web-borne vanguard, striking blows for truth-telling authenticity against the media-monopoly empire. Many newsroom journalists see bloggers as wannabe amateurs badly in need of some skills and some editors.
“Participatory media and journalism are different, but online they exist in a shared media space,” wrote Rebecca Blood, author of the Weblog Handbook and a careful student of the form. (“Shared media space” puts it well.) “I have no desire to conform my weblog to journalistic standards, or to remake journalism in my image. I want to find ways to leverage the strengths of both worlds to the mutual benefit of both.” I think that is the right attitude for our conference to take.
In an earlier essay, Blood showed how difficult it was to identify journalism exclusively with journalists. If we focus on practices that meet a certain standard, she said, then it is easy to tell who is who:
When a blogger writes up daily accounts of an international conference, as David Steven did at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, that is journalism. When a magazine reporter repurposes a press release without checking facts or talking to additional sources, that is not. When a blogger interviews an author about their new book, that is journalism. When an opinion columnist manipulates facts in order to create a false impression, that is not. When a blogger searches the existing record of fact and discovers that a public figure’s claim is untrue, that is journalism. When a reporter repeats a politician’s assertions without verifying whether they are true, that is not.
Instead of wrestling with blogging’s actual potential in journalism, we have tended to fight about bloggers’ credentials as journalists. This is a matter of far less importance, although I would never say “credentials don’t matter.” Even fights about credentials matter, sometimes.
But that is a poor way to go about discovering what blogging means for journalists and the future of the public service franchise. Today there is every reason in the world for journalists to finally get religion about blogging while bloggers get their thing with journalism straight.
Departure points for Friday morning (Schedule.)
I recommend the following points of departure for our discussion. There are five.
With blogging, an awkward term, we designate a fairly beautiful thing: the extension to many more people of a First Amendment franchise, the right to publish your thoughts to the world.
Wherever blogging spreads the dramas of free expression follow. And this will happen in journalism. There will be struggles with freedom of speech. A blog, you see, is a little First Amendment machine. And some of the roots of blogging are in the right to speak up, the will to be heard. In some cases, heard over the din of journalism. Dave Winer, conference participant, in a 2001 essay, “The Web is a Writing Environment,” tried to get freelance interpreters interested in becoming sovereign on the Web:
What if you’re a freelancer, you sold a piece on wireless computing, and that’s it, but what are you supposed to do with the knowledge you’ve accumulated as the market you wrote about is developing? Or flipped around, what if you’re an engineer and the press is covering your category without any depth, do you just sit by and watch the opportunity dissipate? What if you’re a human resources manager in a large corporation, and want to publish a column for your constituents, but the internal development people are always too busy to work on your project?
I think there’s always going to be tension between bloggers and Big Journalism. It’s in the DNA.
When a student leaves NYU’s graduate program and joins, say, the St. Petersburg Times as a staff writer, she benefits on her first day at work from the accumulated trust or reputation the newspaper has in its market, in the community around Tampa Bay. The circumstances in which this asset was created have long since passed from view. The trust transaction lives for new employees mostly in the form of professional standards they are to meet, which in theory maintain the brand.
This is the number one asset of the news organization: stored trust, reputational capital. Any competent journalist knows how to benefit from that: your calls get returned… like magic! But as to how that capital is created, or the transaction of trust that involves people and their connection to the news, the professional journalist is minimally involved.
We start telling students in graduate school they won’t “have” credibility unless they meet professional standards and obey the rules, but this tends to be interpreted as: “if we obey the rules of journalism, and meet the standards of our peers, then we have credibility.” And that is not true. (Your peers may have the wrong standards.) If it were true, having a wall of journalism prizes would be equivalent to having the public’s trust.
In a 2002 essay in Microcontent News, John Hiler observed: “For bloggers, it’s all about trust too: except weblogs are starting from zero, building their reputations from the ground up. Blog responsibly, and you’ll build a reputation for being a trusted news source. Don’t, and you won’t have a reputation to worry about.”
Here is one advantage bloggers have in the struggle for reputation— for the user’s trust. They are closer to the transaction where trust gets built up on the Web. There’s a big difference between tapping a built-up asset, like the St. Pete Times “brand,” and creating it from scratch. Bloggers are “building their reputations from the ground up,” as Hiler said, and to do this they have to focus on users. They have to be in dialogue. They have to point to others and say: listen to him! The connection between what they do and whether they are trusted is much alive and apparent. In journalism that connection has been harder to find lately. Journalists don’t know much about it. They do know their rules, though.
We learn about it from a fascinating new study, The Pro-Am Revolution, a 70-page paper from Demos in the UK. It barely mentions bloggers or journalism, and so it is perfect for sketching a larger pattern into which J-blogging fits.
The twentieth century was shaped by the rise of professionals in most walks of life. From education, science and medicine, to banking, business and sports, formerly amateur activities became more organised, and knowledge and procedures were codified and regulated. As professionalism grew, often with hierarchical organisations and formal systems for accrediting knowledge, so amateurs came to be seen as second-rate. Amateurism came to be to a term of derision. Professionalism was a mark of seriousness and high standards.
And of course this happened in journalism in the 1920s through 1940s. University training, professional societies, codes of ethics emerged. This movement created my institution, the J-school, as well as the standard of neutral, nonpartisan professionalism of which Howard Fineman spoke. Demos on the shift:
But in the last two decades a new breed of amateur has emerged: the Pro-Am, amateurs who work to professional standards. These are not the gentlemanly amateurs of old – George Orwell’s blimpocracy, the men in blazers who sustained amateur cricket and athletics clubs. The Pro-Ams are knowledgeable, educated, committed and networked, by new technology. The twentieth century was shaped by large hierarchical organisations with professionals at the top. Pro-Ams are creating new, distributed organisational models that will be innovative, adaptive and low-cost.
In other words, they cannot be dismissed. “Knowledge, once held tightly in the hands of professionals and their institutions, will start to flow into networks of dedicated amateurs,” says the report. “The crude, all or nothing, categories we use to carve up society – leisure versus work, professional versus amateur – will need to be rethought.” Written about other fields, these words should be read into journalism, which is being hit hard by the Pro-Am trend.
Professionals – in science and medicine, war and politics, education and welfare – shaped the twentieth century through their knowledge, authority and institutions. They will still be vital in the twenty-first century. But the new driving force, creating new streams of knowledge, new kinds of organisations, new sources of authority, will be the Pro-Ams. (p. 67)
Bloggers vs. professional journalists is over. But there’s power in the revolution Pro-Am.
Professional journalists confronted with the confusions of the online world have consistently maintained that the “traditional” news criers will do fine on the new platform, even with more competition, because, the feeling goes, the bigger the onslaught of information online, the greater the need for some authoritative filter, like the daily newspaper.
William Safire, for example, wrote a “nah, we’ll be fine” column about it. “On national or global events,” he said, “the news consumer needs trained reporters on the scene to transmit facts and trustworthy editors to judge significance.” Indeed, everyone needs an intelligent filter to find what’s good and make sure nothing essential is missed. Journalists reckon, “that’s us.”
Sound reasoning. However it doesn’t tell you how the filter does the filtering for the filterees. I mean… “editors to judge significance” based on what? Big Journalism’s answers have been: Knowledge of professional standards in journalism. Knowledge of our community. Knowledge of the story. The knowledge that comes from experience. In other words, the filter is reliable because it is operated by a professional editor who knows what to do.
But online a filter becomes more intelligent by people interacting with it. To judge significance, it helps to be in conversation with the people you are sifting things for. One might propose: over time a blog teaches a journalist how to become an intelligent filter by forcing interaction with the Web and its users. If the traditional press expects to survive on its filtering skills, and to be authoritative, it will have to devise a way of interacting more with the filterees. Ask not how professional or experienced the filter is, but how interactive. We need filters that learn from users. Trust, I believe, will flow from that.
Some journalists are identified with a brand, like MSNBC. Others, as Chris Nolan figured out, stand alone. Many of the practical problems of bloggers are the problems of standing alone. If there were solutions to those, there might be better blogging all around.
Writing about the Iraq war in his blogger’s manifesto (2002), Andrew Sullivan explains the advantages of the stand alone style in blogging:
The blog almost seemed designed for this moment. In an instant, during the crisis, the market for serious news commentary soared. But people were not just hungry for news, I realized. They were hungry for communication, for checking their gut against someone they had come to know, for emotional support and psychological bonding. In this world, the very personal nature of blogs had far more resonance than more impersonal corporate media products. Readers were more skeptical of anonymous news organizations anyway, and preferred to supplement them with individual writers they knew and liked.
It’s not all about providing good information. Responding when people are “hungry for communication” also builds trust online. In certain ways, which we have yet to learn much about, the stand alone journalist may be easier to trust than a corporate provider.
Because bloggers vs. journalists is over, better and better comparisons can be drawn between the two. Simon Waldman of the Guardian said that the tsunami disaster “has shown both the greatest strengths of citizens’ journalism, and its greatest weakness.”
The great strength is clearly the vividness of first person accounts. And, in this case, the sheer volume of them. Pretty much every story of everyone who experienced the tsunami is moving in someway or other - and thanks to blogs, text messages, camcorders and the overall wonderfulness of the net, there have never been so many stories recorded by so many people made so widely available to whoever who wants to find them, whenever they want to find them.
This is the revolution in supply, via self-publishing on the Web. “The great weakness, though, is the lack of shape, structure and ultimately meaning that all this amounts to. It is one thing to read hundreds of people’s stories. It is another to try and work out what the story actually is.” That won’t come from a revolution in supply because it’s about reducing information, distilling it down, as “happens in traditional media.” Waldman is clear on the advantages of professional journalism’s sense of discipline:
The disciplines of traditional media—space, deadlines, the need to have a headline and an intro and a cohesive story rather than random paragraphs, the use of layout or running order to give some sense of shape and priority to the news—aren’t just awkward restrictions. They add meaning. They help understanding. Without them, it’s much, much harder to make sense of what’s happening in the world.
Xeni Jardin, co-editor of the hugely popular BoingBoing, told John Schwartz of the New York Times that arguing about whether blogs would replace the major news media is like asking “will farmers’ markets replace restaurants?”
“One is a place for rich raw materials,” she continued. “One represents a different stage of the process.”
Amen to that. My closing thoughts are the peaceable ones of writer, blogger and Web philosopher Mitch Ratcliffe, who, like so many of us, is trying to keep track of a dizzying scene. “The point of innovation in media is to expand, not simply to displace, the voices that existed before,” he writes. Politics, by contrast, is where we replace one group of voices with another.
I’m feeling more Buddhist all the time about this whole journalism v. blogging debate. The middle way in the metalogue that is emerging—the miraculous opening up of “the media” that’s going on—is plenty wide for all sorts of writing, the objective, the disclosed and the personal.
The price of professionalizing journalism was the de-voicing of the journalist. The price for having mass media was the atomization of the audience, who in the broadcasting model were connected “up” to the center but not “across” to each other. Well, blogging is a re-voicing tool in journalism, and the Net’s strengths in horizontal communication mean that audience atomization is being overcome.
It’s an exciting time in journalism. As the great social weave from which it arises changes form, the thing itself comes up for grabs.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links
February, 2008: Three years later, Mark Glaser writes: “The time-worn debate of Bloggers vs. Journalists has finally run its course.” See Mediashift, Distinction Between Bloggers, Journalists Blurring More Than Ever. “We’ve all co-existed just fine for a while now, and the truth is, the distinction is less relevant every day,” says Washingtonpost.com executive editor Jim Brady.
For what happened at the ‘05 conference, see Big Wigs From the Blogging & Journalism Conference Say What They Found and A Few Key Moments…
This post was somehow accidentally deleted and it had to be re-constructed. All the text was saved, but the original comments were lost. They can be viewed if you go here and scroll down.
Conference material: What’s Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism? Which is PressThink’s most popular post ever (Oct. 2003). A top ten list…quite short!
Talking via experiment to the Harvard blogging conference, David Berlind, Executive Editor of ZDNet, does a proof-of-concept for reporting transparency, sending out by podcast the full original audio files of an interview he did with Scott Young, CEO of Userland— against which (in theory) the column he wrote could be checked for fairness. (See his additional remarks in the comments here.)
Resembles a suggestion I made on Jan. 10 in a post about CBS: 60 Minutes should publish on the web full transcripts and videos of all interviews conducted for a segment that airs. It’s good to see the conference sparking actual experiments.
Mark Tosczak, writing for a local Business Journal, offers a very competent overview of the Greensboro News-Record’s bold departure, which I discuss in my essay. It includes this from Phil Meyer of the University of North Carolina and author of a new book, The Vanishing Newspaper:
“What’s wrong with newspapers today is that because of their long history of easy money, they’re very conservative, very reluctant to try new things,” Meyer said. “This is a fairly radical experiment and it’s exactly the kind of things newspapers need to do.”
“That’s why blogging came about, as a counter-action to the corruption of the professional system.” Dave Winer warms up for the Harvard conference.
Speaking of counter-actions, Andrew Sullivan, writing about the Howard Fineman essay from which I quoted:
“His admission that the mainstream media have acted as a de facto political party for three decades strikes me as a big deal - the first crack of self-awareness in the MSM. But I truly hope the blogosphere doesn’t become its replacement. Blogs are strongest when they are politically diverse, when they are committed to insurgency rather than power, when they belong to no party. I’m particularly worried that the blogosphere has become far more knee-jerk, shrill and partisan since the days when I first started blogging. Some of that’s healthy and inevitable; but too much is damaging. In challenging the MSM, we should resist the temptation to become like them.”
Action around my line, “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one, and blogging means anyone can own one.” See Scott Rosenberg’s “not quite, Jay.” And then see Ernest Miller’s Freedom of the Press Belongs to Those Who Own Servers. His notion of “the server in the closet” is essential to grap, so grasp it. When everyone has a server at home, not a PC, then we’ll have a free press!
Note to readers who’ve asked: I am coming late to the big blow up about Zephyr Teachout’s naming names post on bloggers ethics. Frankly, I was in a cave finishing my conference essay and didn’t pay attention to anything said about it. I will try to get up to speed, starting with this list. I may have nothing to add, by the looks of it. Lots said.
Meanwhile, I recommend Chris Nolan’s skeptical read on Teachout and the Havard bash, Not-So-Spontaneous Human Combustion. I recommend it not for that, but for its take on “stand alone journalists,” Big Journalism and a Web “community” that is about to split, she says. Nolan originated the term stand alone journalist for independent J-bloggers; and I used it in my piece.
I also recommend this forceful statement from Digby.
Dave Pollard has written “The Ten Most Important Ideas of 2004: Blogs and the Internet.” Comparable to PressThink’s Top Ten Ideas of 2004. And of course completely different. Good conference background.
The Houston Chronicle’s opinion page editor writes Notes on blogs: Trying the hot medium, wherein the writer decides to “experiment to see what it might be like to write a blog.” The results are not encouraging. One small problem: no links! See Dave Pell’s priceless commentary on the Chronicle editor: Elegance, Wit and Insight. “Question of the day: Is it possible to be a journalist and still not really have any idea what a blog is or what the personal publishing revolution is all about?” It’s possible.
Not dead yet. Here’s Todd Gitlin in the Los Angeles Times:
The crowning ideal of the American news business — that there is such a thing as objective journalism — persists amid the terrible pressures to cut corners in the shortsighted lust for competitive advantage. Despite the evident frailties of mainstream journalism, even those who operate around its margins — bloggers, Op-Ed writers, even some of the more opinionated sectors of cable — are still completely dependent on it and still believe they’re getting some truth there. (Where would Bill O’Reilly or Al Franken be without a daily newspaper?)
Micah Sifry: “Mainstream journalism is dying in part because it has insisted on an impossible thing: objectivity. In the process, it killed the human voice (and all too often has replaced it with the paid voice, the corporate shill, the ideological hack.) Now, real human voices are back via blogging and other online communications platforms, and we are gravitating toward that ‘strange attractor’ (as the Cluetrain put it) of real human conversations over the web.”
Just so there’s no mistake, conferencers, I agree with this from the Washington Post’s ombudsman Michael Getler:
Despite some high-profile stumbles in the past year or so, the so-called mainstream media continue to routinely do their job of uncovering what others would prefer be kept quiet. That they keep doing so, that they not become intimidated by political pressure, remains crucial to an informed citizenry and our democracy. The country’s major newspapers, in particular, are uniquely equipped for this work and, whatever one thinks of any of them, we will all pay an incalculable price if they falter.
Chris Hedges, former foreign correspondent for the New York Times, in the Philadelphia Inquirer (Jan. 23): “Balance and objectivity have become code words to propagate the insidious and cynical moral disengagement that is destroying American journalism. This moral disengagement gives equal time, and sometimes more than equal time, to those who spread falsehoods and distort information. It tacitly sanctions the dissemination of lies. It absolves us from making moral choice. It obscures and often shuts out the truth.”
Posted by Jay Rosen at January 21, 2005 5:43 PM Print