Monday, October 11, 2004

Blogging versus journalism

The two main things that separate blogging from journalism are the personalization of the voice of the blogger and the lack of the subbing workflow you would expect to see for any print or online publication.The question is why so many readers of online content have chosen to eschew traditional sources of news in favour of weblogs. Looking at the content blogs provide, such as alternative perspective, first-person experiences and interactivity, one might conclude that readers want either a balanced or more personal angle to their news.At the heart of this may also be a growing dissatisfaction or distrust of news provided by large media conglomerates.If journalism is by definition the reporting of news in a fair, balanced and accurate way, then blogging is not journalism. But if the truth is that not all journalists and media outlets adhere to these principles, the distinction is less clear.While people from journalism backgrounds tend to say they aspire to the high ideals of truth, fairness, and accuracy, I don't think the output of most newspapers comes close to that. If they're not sticking to standards, it'll be noticed by readers and other webloggers, who will take the author to task for the impropriety. The community acts as the editors. A corollary of the debate over blogging has highlighted the feeling that many big news and media organisations have lost sight of the fact that no publication or source can automatically command the trust of the reader. But journalists are not the only ones who know how to speak the truth. Bloggers are increasingly engaging in random acts of journalism whenever they report on events they witness first-hand or when they offer analysis, background or commentary on a newsworthy topic. Those who publish rumour and present it as fact will be burned fairly quickly.The weblogs that have gained huge followings have done so on the basis of becoming an authority on a particular subject, or breaking news that has subsequently proved true. Authors of blogs are given authoritative status by the very readers who have trusted them over time or share the same perspective.

The reaction towards blogging as a medium recalls that to the New Journalism movement, pioneered by writers such as Hunter S Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote and Norman Mailer. The New Journalism movement transformed the conventional wisdom of news writing by presenting stories as features with greater colour, vibrancy and permeated with the personal experiences of the writer. The sense of detachment between the writer and reader disappeared. At the time of the movement the sound of guffaws and sneers from news writers and real journalists resonated just as loudly as they do today towards blogging. Like them or not, they are here to stay and are now an integral part of an online news gatherer's tool box. A part of what blogging is about is the personal voice and now we are trying to decide, how can we bring personality into what we've done already? Of course, personality can get you into trouble as a journalist. US journalist, Steve Olafson, lost his job for criticising local politicians (see http://www.journalism.co.uk/news/story492.html). The trick may be to balance informed opinion with fact, and to keep the two obviously distinct.
If the news media chooses to ignore it, it'll continue to lose a chance to connect with readers on an intimate daily basis. And they'll become a bit less relevant with each passing day.

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