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August 5, 2006

The Pros Gonna Blog You Under the Table

Journalists about to replace bloggers? Nonsense, says our roving critic.

San Francsico, August 5. It has become fashionable of late to warn that bloggers are soon to be replaced by those savvy and determined latecomers to the Web, the journalists!

Slate’s trusty trend-spotter, Jack Shafer, announced it with great fanfare in 2005: “With the exception of the ‘metro’ section reporter covering a 12-car pile-up on the freeway, I think most practicing journalists today are as Webby as any blogger you care to name.”

Since Shafer’s grand declaration the “we are the Web” chorus has only grown louder in mainstream journalism, and today it seems to you can’t turn around with hearing about the collapse of independent blogging, and its transformation into ordinary media space.

But what the sweaty champions of “journalism as a form of blogging” overlook is how hard it is for your average reporter to thrive in the link-filled, argument-rich, emotionally-present, here’s-where-I-stand style that traditional bloggers have cultivated over the years. It takes time. Perhaps the hardest part is you actually have to be interested in what other people are saying.

Earlier this year, the Financial Times jumped aboard the “we’re so Webby” express. It claimed that “the ‘dinosaur’ businesses of the old economy have a canny ability to absorb, adapt and evolve.” Indeed, “We are already starting to see blogs taking root in well established newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Newsroom triumphalism aside, this hardly anounts to the death of blogging. Last time I looked, the Technorati Top 100 was still dominated by—you guessed it—traditional bloggers working in the daily, grind-it-out, link-and-comment style.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times does have a business blog. Well, whoop-de-damn-doo. According to Blog Pulse the thing has zero links. May we stop the trans-Atlantic breast beating now?

Rather breathlessly but in perfect lockstop with Shafer, Nick Lemann of the New Yorker recently boasted about how Web-friendly and two-way our professional journalists have gotten: “In their Internet versions, most traditional news organizations make their reporters available to answer readers’ questions and, often, permit readers to post their own material.”

Sorry—and I know I’ll get flamed for this in “Talk of the Town”—but it’s going to take a bit more than online Q and A’s and open comment threads to sweep bloggers into the dustbin.

We hear every day how “the pros are gonna blog you under the table.” Count me unimpressed. I say a majority of the blogging is going to continue to be done by the traditional underwear types who have the passion and irreverance the pros seem to lack.

And speaking of passion, has anyone noticed how some of the most prominent press bloggers, faced with the rigors of posting every day, have quietly abandoned the form? David Carr, who pompously describes himself as “the first blogger at The New York Times,” gave up his Carpetbagger blog on March 9. Apparently the counter-revolution will have to wait. It was too hard to keep blogging with everything else he had to do!

So before you start stocking your RSS-reader with converted columnists and spiffed-up beat reporters, take a deep breath, calm down, and call up your Talking Points Memo, your Volokh Conspiracy, your Scobelizer, your Dooce, your Global Voices. Do these pages look worried?

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

The quotes are real, the links are real. But this post is satire, people. I just want to make that clear, okay? Satire… Yes, I know that’s difficult on the Web. No, this note you’re reading right now is not satire, as one reader suggested in the comments.

Our roving critic in the comments: “Maybe satire is the wrong word. How’s ‘bout: attention, press people, this is what you sound like when you write those articles arguing that bloggers won’t replace journalists.

Rebecca MacKinnon responds: “Real” Journalism on the Read-Write Web. Amen.

Dave Winer: Interview request. “It would do us all good if the pros would stop predicting the demise of blogging, and get busy learning to use blogging in their reporting.”

Michael Schrage of MIT’s Media Lab e-mails:

Sorry to come to Nick’s ‘analysis’ so late. Read your comment and Jeff Jarvis’s. May I just add a couple of cents?

In the course of being the Washington Post’s first “tech” correspondent back in the early and mid-80s, I had to cover Detroit and Ross Perot’s acquisition by GM. I learned a lot about the autombile industry (and, frankly, I really hadn’t planned on that or wanted to…)

Forgive the preamble but it leads to my key point: Detroit just sucked at competition. It thought of itself and behaved like a domestic oligopoly and even Chrysler’s near-death experience didn’t change that dynamic.

Competition from Japan? Establish voluntary export restraints and insist on domestic content and greenfield plants.

It took well over a decade—and literally hundreds of thousands of layoffs—before Detroit even began to be a global competitor. To this day we can see that competition more often drew out the worst of Detroit’s executives and employees rather than their best.

I feel this dynamic replayed in the so-called MSM; in 2001, I would have bet real money that competition from the blogs and Google was going to make the New York Times, WSJ, CBS, CNN, Time, LA Times, etc. better and sharper publications.

What I see and read today are so-called ‘professional’ journalists operating from a defensive crouch and the breathtaking (to me) arrogance that competition from ‘amateurs’ and responses by reader/viewers are, net-net, not worthy of their time. It’s astonishing to me.

My political biases and perceptions aside, I am just flat out disappointed by how poorly the MSM competes. And it’s clear to me why Rupert Murdoch—for whom competition is both fuel and goad—has done so well over the past twenty years.

Posted by Jay Rosen at August 5, 2006 6:47 PM