Jay Rosen is moderating a discussion at BloggerCon on Saturday of the questions, “What is Journalism And What Can Weblogs Do About It?” I am reading through his background essay and the associated comments to get a feel for what it will be like.
Right up front, Jay hits me over the head with insight in making sure that journalism is not defined as a profession, but an act:
By “journalism” we ought to mean the practice of it, not the profession of it. Journalism can happen on any platform. It is independent of its many delivery devices. This also means that journalism is not the same thing–at all–as “the media.” [...]
If printers and postmasters, who didn’t set out to be journalists, can wind up as that, then in any era we should think it possible for people to wind up doing journalism because they find it a logical, practical, meaningful, democratic, and worthwhile activity.
Other key points: The “professional journalists” are a large portion of the quality journalists, but this not always be the case. And, journalism is primarily defined in terms of addressing a “public” about some situations or events.
On journalists being better…
Dave Winer commented on the superiority of bloggers or professionals:
I think the best journalists around today are bloggers, not professionals, and I’m not saying that to be argumentative, I really believe it, and could and would debate it, except this is not the topic of this session.
In a way this is like saying the best programmers are professionalis, yet the hype says the opposite. What does it say about us if we believe that whether or not someone is paid plays a major role in the quality, and that in one profession it’s the fact that they’re being paid that makes them better, and in another it’s the fact that they’re not being paid.
Bryant refers to the idea that other journalists are better–or can be better–because they have better, or exclusive, tools like access (press passes.) He asks how bloggers can get them.
Micheal Boyle lists of many kinds of journalists to illustrate that it’s not correct to refer to them as a homogeneous group.
Many people discussed labels in general and their failure to aide understanding in many situations.
Terry Heaton asks, “Do weblogs really give power to the people? and If weblog journalism is about power, what’s to prevent [it from being corrupted]?”
Jay Rosen interprets the above as related to conflicts of interest in journalism in general.
A nice soundbite of this issue from Academy Girl: “No one owns journalism, but lots of people own journalists.”
Other comments related to power.
Seth Finkelstein identifies that blogging still presents the problem of gatekeepers who constrict information. This seems to related to Shirky’s Power Law, I think with this issue Joi Ito‘s idea of the “amplifier” fits.
b!X wants to know about credibility in weblog journalism. I imagine that many will want to know about credibility in journalism period, as one of the popular modes of blogging is “checking your ass.”
(Related to differences between “Big Media” and “Blogging.”)
Julia G. thinks that blogging can often provide a different narrative that is lost in the big world.
Mary Hodder points out that one of the most unobserved and important changes in blog journalism is the concept of “linking.” It leads me to wonder about what a traditional news article would be like if every quote and statistic was linked to the original source for context and clarity.
Amy Wohl refers to this as the “transparency of the Internet.” I would just, as the “power” comments imply, that this a potential–not a definite.
Michael ask if this is where credibility comes from? In that case, does this means blogs are more creditable on average because of the higher percentage of referenced data?
Academy Girl points out that when bloggers reference they are often unable to double-check. This is like when a local newspaper just pulls headlines from the AP.
Jay Rosen does a great job defining the benefit of linking:
Linking–or let’s say linking at its best–annuls and overrrides journalism’s enormous appetite for forgetting things (also called dropping the story.) Linking negates the context-stripping that daily journalism in a sense demands. Linking obeys a different informational ethic entirely, which is why, Anna, op-ed style writing online–at weblogs–is frequently done at a higher level than the professional norm.
Phil Wolff both asks if blogging is like teaching yourself journalism and if blogging is only different because it is often done for free.
Tangential to this, Tom Matrullo refers to blogging journalism as benefitting from starting from scratch without an intrenched method that must be protected. I think Jay Rosen identified parts of this when suggesting that bloggers could possibly learn from journalism and vice-versa.
Michael says this will be the ultimate effect of blogging: Not replacing, but reorganizing, journalism.
Academy Girl points out that most blogging is just editorial and “second-rate punditry.” I imagine that many would say the same about “professionals” they dislike.
This is related to the lowered barrier of entry that Jeneane mentioned.
Jeff Sharlet continues with this deflating:
I’m afraid that rather than challenging the decrepit state of journalism, blogs are actually propping it up, by validating it through endless punditry, as Academy Girl more or less notes. Hack journalists in the press pool churn out mediocre fluff; blow hard bloggers call them to task, but only by discussing the piece. And the end result is: Nothing new in the way of information or narrative.
That’s a pessimistic view, but how many people read blogs who don’t blog? The fact that so many blog readers are also bloggers (or frequent enough commentators to count as such) isn’t some kind of democratic achievement, it’s an incestuous community. Sure, we welcome new cousins, but this isn’t changing the world. It’s making a new watercooler for media types and political hobbyists (no insult intended; I’m one myself and spend a lot of time reading others).
Of course, this critique is limited to blogs that deal with news. Personal blogs, religious blogs, food blogs, knitting blogs — perhaps they’re actually inventing a new journalism.
b!X seems to suggest that because blogs are read, and readers define worth, this implies that blogs are of worth. The only thing up and the air then is: Are they journalism? Someone would naturally ask next, Does it matter if they are journalism?
What about the social negatives of weblogs? (Don’t lynch me please but we’re not doing our job if we don’t ask this question.) To what extent might they contribute to the spread of disinformation, and to tyrannies of misinformed majorities? I hear this question a lot from blog-skeptics. (This also leads to a question I want to deal with in my session: what happens when people are blogging in countries that don’t have a free press?)
Something clever for Rebecca’s session: If there’s blogging in that country, then they don’t know they have a free press. Har har har.
On the lowered barrier of entry…
Seth Finkelstein says that the barrier being lower, smaller, or easier is an illusion… at least for bloggers who want to be read.
My advice to bloggers seeking traffic is to entirely ignore anything said by bubble-blowers and it’s-a-New-Era type visionaries. Rather, the game is the same-old-same-old. Either you have to attach yourself somehow to one of a few attention-gatekeepers (as a favorite or protege or water-carrier or similar), or have some sort of institutional endorsement, or be willing to spend a very great deal of time and energy on promotion, etc. Otherwise, you’re going to be the equivalent of the public-park soapbox-standers, and then have to watch all the nattering about how your standing on a soapbox proves the vibrant democratic properties of the parksphere.
Matt Stoller ponders the connection between blogging and non-media journalism: Like the Daily Show or the Onion.
Weldon Berger writes about how bloggers don’t go after the big targets for news, but the emergent effect of their trawling can compete.
Jeneane refers to this as this disappearance of the “ta-da!” in journalism and news.
Debra Galant explains that everyone is excited because everyone has a story to tell, they don’t need to wait for journalists to ask.