Monday, February 14, 2005

Taking on Blogger vs Journalist

There is a gi-normous debate going on in the world of media today. Blogging vs. Traditional media. I don't think it has to be a one versus the other issue. For those who don't know, let me give you a little history. In the last five months there have been two major upheavals in mainstream media brought to you by the blogging network. First, you had Dan Rather and what is being termed "Rathergate". Most recently, Eason Jordon (check the link it is funny) at CNN has resigned over comments from a group of bloggers, on a piece he did on journalists killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan and Iraq. These events obviously show the potential power of the blogisphere. More and more, bloggers are picking up stories first and then they are being used by the mainstream media. I feel bloggers are picking up the slack. The papers and other media sources don't have an unlimited amount of resources and don't always know what is going on in a particular community. As good and open-minded as my local paper, The Greensboro News and Record, is, it still can not cover all the news that matters to the people, and does not have an unlimited number of journalists to cover all these issues. In most newspapers the bottom line is going to be sales. A story might be great, but if it does not push out oodles of papers, you probably won't see it. Bloggers are picking up that slack. Bloggers have also become a media watchdog as well. The old adage, "Don't believe everything you read or see", is being redefined by the blogisphere, by researching the medias stories and "fact checking their asses".

Mainstream media is up in arms and feels they are being backed into a corner they didn't think existed. There are several issues to cover. What is a bloggers credentials and credibility? A mainstream journalist works for a company or organization, which has credibility and a history of reporting the news. A blogger has their word. Bloggers are using links to other stories and sources, revealing where they got their information from. Journalists, usually, do not reveal what their sources are. We still don't know who Deep Throat is, decades later. As a blogger, I feel I am building my credentials as I write. I have done interviews, investigated stories, etc.. What makes me different from a journalist? A degree and an institution to write for? I do it for free? I don't think we are all that different. Would you seek the truth from someone who gets paid or from someone who does it because they care and felt a story was important? I will say not all bloggers are good enough to be journalists and I don't think all bloggers are trying to be journalists. The bloggers that are good enough will stand apart from the rest and step up to this challenge.

Blogs are really no different then a wire service, such as Reuters or the Associated Press. Maybe someone will start a Bloggers Press wire, and that can give credibility to the blogisphere that it deserves. Strength in numbers and bloggers are 8 million strong and counting. I have been added to many press lists using the wire service definition for my blog. I also subscribe to a lot of RSS feeds, which act like my own personalized news wire. I check my RSS before my CNN.

There is the fear of change as well. Mainstream media has been the same game for decades. I feel there is a sense of fear among journalists, that this could mean their jobs eventually. I understand that fear, but I strongly disagree that blogs, or whatever the next medium will be, will replace the mainstream media. I do think there will be a transformation in the media world that eventually accepts bloggers as a source of news. This same type of fear was felt when movies were available on tape for home consumption for the first time. Also, when cable TV came to be. The movie industry's fears were that no one would come to the theaters anymore, but I still go and I am sure that others do as well. People will still read the paper and watch CNN. Why not be transparent and saturate the market with as much news as possible?

There is the question of ethics: what is right and wrong and how you go about it. I strongly urge all my fellow bloggers to check out Journalism.org and read the ethics standards they have set out for all journalists. They can apply to bloggers as much as they apply to mainstream journalists. I would urge proof reading and fact checking your stories and if you make a mistake, issue a correction at the end of the original piece. To all the reporters that have done something sleazy to get a story or bend the rules a little to get the story I say, "How dare you question my ethics?" People know right from wrong, bloggers are people.

One feature that blogs have, that journalists don't have, is comments. Comments allow a blogger to have an extended look and conversation with their readers. Letters to the Editor sort of does that, but does not keep the conversation going. There are times that the comment box for a piece is more interesting, because the story took on it's own life and the back and forth dialogue in the comments box expands on the idea or the facts of a story. Commenting also gives people a sense of "getting personal" with the author of a piece, something I can not do reading the paper or watching TV. When is the last time you had dialogue with Wolf Blitzer? I never have and I have tried. If I was a mainstream journalist, I would want to know what my readers think, and have a chance to respond to a different take on my story.

Access to past articles is also an issue. Some newspapers make a very pretty penny on selling access to their archives. Bloggers post and that post can be read at anytime for no cost. Information should be as free as possible, knowledge is the key to our survival. Why make obtaining that knowledge any harder then it has to be? In three months most of today's news is locked behind a wall for sale, again interrupting the conversation. I do understand the business model for news archives. I understand about the money train that rolls because of it. What good is that money train if there are no riders(or in this case readers). If papers want to be lucrative again, they need an online presence and the overall product needs to be news worthy and be able to recapture the audience. That audience is more so ,every day, online.

To sum it all up, I feel that the mainstream journalists are mass media and bloggers are media for the masses. We will have to see where this on-going debate and transformation will take us all. I hope it will bring upon a new, trust worthy, and complete news system worldwide.
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