blogenlust
1.19.2005

Blogging and Journalism


Jay Rosen at PressThink was kind enough to post a draft of the essay he plans to deliver at the Blogging, Journalism, and Credibility Conference next weekend at Harvard University. The essay, entitled "Bloggers vs. Journalists Is Now Over", is very good and insightful. Here are some of the parts I found most interesting:
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. [...] 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. [...] 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.
I've been thinking a lot about this topic lately, and have admittedly found it difficult to get a full grasp of the issue, not only because of its complexity, but also because of how quickly the gist of the debate changes. As Rosen notes, the "bloggers vs. journalists" debate changed monumentally the moment the tsunami hit, and it's hard to know how it will change and evolve during the next major crisis. For bloggers, the tsunami (and, at least ostensibly, Rathergate--although I think this is more of an example of the dangerous mob mentality that exits potentially in the blogosphere) bolstered their credibility among journalists and the public. The medium is evolving so quickly, though, that something could happen tomorrow that destroys all this earned cred. As a result, it's difficult to have a definitive understanding of What It All Means. Keep that in mind as you read some of my thoughts on the topic. I've never quite understood all the fuss about blogging and credibility. Originally, credibility became an issue when the Internet was just beginning to become a major source of public information. It was easy for people to dismiss anything that was published on the Internet for no other reason than the fact that it originated online. In a sense, the Internet was seen as the world's shitty high school newspaper--fun to read over lunch, but something you shouldn't take too seriously. This, of course, has changed in large part due to the blogosphere, but it hasn't changed because blogs are replacing journalists. It's happening because blogs are a great source for niche information (i.e. liberal politics, foreign affairs, etc), they're fun to read, and they're interactive--often the reader can participate in the discussion in ways they can't with other media. The popularity, and by extension the credibility, of blogs has been driven purely by the large numbers of people that read them (e.g., Kos gets 260k/day, Instapundit gets 150k/day). If that many people are taking the time to read blogs, there must be something there. It might not be journalism per se, but it is something close. At the least, it is something complementary, and not threatening. The thing I find most interesting about the debate on the credibility of bloggers is that it hasn't originated with the public. Instead, it largely has derived from the Journalism Establishment, who for reasons that are sometimes valid and other times petty, feel threatened by the blogging phenomenon. This insecurity comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of what blogs are about. It arises out of a misguided generalization that bloggers are, as some critics suggest, anonymous, irresponsible, and unaccountable for what they write. They create an image of the blogosphere that is akin to a Wild West type anarchy. To generalize like this is to ignore a lot of very good bloggers (who also happen to be journalists), and to ignore the reasons why these people blog. The truth is that many political and media bloggers write to supplement what the media has already written. They may take a decidedly biased tone where journalists have (traditionally) remained objective. But this is accepted by the public because it's what people apparently want. As someone notes in Rosen's essay, objectivity is dead. People want to read the news through the lens of their political bias. It's why Fox News is so popular and it's why blogs are taking off. Of course, blogs also serve as a watchdog on the media, which in my opinion, is a good thing and something journalists should embrace. An apt comparison to this is John Stewart's appearance on Crossfire. Tucker Carlson and the Crossfire gang were critical of Stewart because they didn't think Stewart was upholding certain journalistic standards in his role as anchor of The Daily Show. The criticism was ridiculous, not only because The Daily Show is satire, but because Crossfire and much of the rest of the media are equally guilty (and more culpable) of the very same things they accused of Stewart. And this is pretty much where a lot of the debate on bloggers vs. journalism has focused--blogs aren't respected because they're not playing by the same rules as everyone else. The reality of the situation is that blogs refocus the public's attention on things that Journalism either doesn't bother with or sufficiently investigate. It's interesting that Journalism has been so concerned about holding bloggers accountable, but doesn't seem to be equally concerned with holding the President or his Secretary of Defense to the same level of accountability. That is why blogs are flourishing and journalism is in an existential crisis. Blogs are just a lot better at shining a light on things than most media outfits because, I think, they have more freedom to examine things without the journalistic red tape that sometimes limits traditional journalism. It is true that this sort of lawlessness among blogs can be abused, but the pure number of blogs combined with the intelligence and skill of many of the top bloggers serves as a vital check on this lawlessness. In this way, I think the freedom enjoyed by blogs is beneficial to everyone, including journalism. These are just some random thoughts that I've been thinking about lately, so for a more coherent and detailed account of this issue, you'd be well served to check out the awesome Press Think.