Blogging vs. Journalism: Insights and Observations
This week’s topic is one that pulls me personally in various directions. At issue is the war between bloggers and journalists. These are two worlds that repeatedly collide in our current reality, where writing in the growing online realm is free, easy and available to almost everyone, and when the field of journalism as we’ve known it is rapidly fading. The worlds also cross-over, considering that many journalists have become notable bloggers and that some bloggers have successfully utilized this online vehicle to secure employment in the journalism field. Having been a professional journalist and having likewise enjoyed a healthy audience for a personal blog, I can easily discern merit in both camps as well as I can perceive the incumbent operational conflicts.
For an accurate analysis of how these two fields of communication interact, it’s important to first consider the nature of each. A blog (a shortened version of the term ‘weblog’) by definition is a “a website containing a writer’s or group of writers’ own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other websites.” The key words here are “writers’ own experience” and “opinion.” This is, indeed, the general nature of a blog. The most accepted characterization of a blog is as an “online diary.” These are the online, personal outlets where the previously faceless and voiceless can write about their insights and opinions on any subject conceivable. And millions do—as many as 31 million blogs exist in the United States alone. And when the blogging trend has simply been characterized as a sort of personal online journal in its infancy, topics now range primarily along political and public policy lines including government, diplomacy, healthcare, education and a wide range of more societally-minded subject matter. The underlying beauty of blogging is the freedom to inject personal voice. In many instances, that personal voice can achieve notoriety and even national attention, lending audience and credibility to writers who largely have no journalistic credential and who typically do not abide by journalistic norm.
Journalism, on the other hand, has always been characterized by the intended absence of personal voice. As Rosen aptly illustrates it, journalistic writing/reporting disallows “cheering in the press box.” For journalists, many believe that the reputation of the industry relies on its members to be as purely objective as possible and to absolutely refrain from the inclusion of personal opinion. Others suggest that pure objectivity is probably quite impossible. Regardless, the urge and importance of striving for that ideal goal of opinion-free journalistic reporting has been largely pervasive in the industry. Journalism does allow for the expression of opinion in defined situations, as with editorial pages in a newspaper. But in general and quite opposite to the freedom to opine in blogs, journalism is typically opinion-free.
Because it seems that these two genres of writing exist within different realms of design and purpose, it appears that there should be an easy co-existence. That has not been the case amongst insiders, however, considering the Internet’s partial demise of the journalism industry as it has existed. Because many news- and information-seekers are now just as likely to peruse online content for information as they are to pick up a newspaper, blogging is stepping on journalism’s very toes. As Shirky points out and as we have all become abundantly aware, the Internet has allowed everyone to become a media outlet. For better or worse, citizen journalism by way of blogging is as much a news and information source for many as is the evening news on television. For journalism, this is a direct threat—especially when what is available in online blogs, etc. can be of questionable authority and lack accountability.
Shirky illustrates this concept of citizen journalism, namely describing how interpersonal interaction has segued from ‘one-to-one’ (as with telephone usage) to ‘one-to-many’ (where one person’s intuition expressed online can quickly become disseminated to vast numbers of readers/viewers). This allows online communication to resemble the act of traditional journalism. Shirky points out that ideas/news being published online can typically occur in smaller outlets, but in many of them. The frequency of this smaller-scale publishing can ultimately aggregate, amplify and possibly even ultimately outweigh the visibility of larger but fewer professional outlets publishing the same news. (Or more specifically and as in the case of the Trent Lott speech, smaller outlets and bloggers can focus less on news cycle or ‘old news’ concerns and pick apart and heavily publicize a story which might be ignored or overlooked by mainstream media.) Once again, these are direct threats to the existence of the traditional news business. And once again, the question of accuracy and authority comes into play. Indeed, the public has a ‘right to know.’ But if the information being conveyed by citizen journalists in blogs and elsewhere online is errant or skewed with heavy personal opinion, the entire democratic function of journalism as a concept can be in danger.
But from a personal perspective, I believe there is no need for competition or for one medium to usurp another’s role. They can and should co-exist. This week’s reading upholds this contention.
The existence of citizen journalism in the blogosphere is truly a new societal reality because of the Internet. Both Shirky and Rosen characterize this popularity, and explicate the threats to journalism I have already discussed. But what the two writers also do is to explain that this blogger vs. journalist dynamic is largely unnecessary. While it’s true that information dissemination via the Internet has changed where and how consumers attain news, blogging and the like has actually ‘enlarged the team.’ Journalists can now often rely on consumers to provide information, photo and video to enhance a story that would otherwise be lacking some of these elements due to a news outlet’s financial or logistical limitations. In addition, common sense and discernment allow us to decide when a blogger is, as Rosen puts it, an angry person in ‘mommy’s basement’ merely spewing opinion. Those blogs largely go unnoticed and typically weed themselves out. Mass amateurization, participatory contribution and user-generated content online have all brought many new would-be journalists into a new version of the mainstream. All the while, journalists continue to do their work. As we continue to witness the increased readership and accountability of blogging and the simultaneous necessity of traditional journalism to survive and expand its typical business approaches in this new world of media, a functional and distinct partnership between online and traditional media can and should continue to grow.