Blogging: Still Not Journalism

It is, aha, old news by now that the newspaper industry is quickly tanking. Their steady and accelerating decline in readership has translated into a parallel drop in advertisers, and therefore revenue. The advent of online news sources has proven a fatal paradigm shift for papers- as they’re universally accessible from any computer terminal with an internet connection, take up no physical space, provide streaming content, are adulterated with attention-grabbing multimedia additives, and have not even half of a physical paper’s operating overhead, the sheer weight of disadvantages they have over their younger, faster brethren is insurmountable.

It has thus often been touted that we are now living in the first years of the era of the Blog. Citizen journalism is on the ascend, and anybody with access to the internet can now partake in the public discourse. We are finally freed from the shackles of corporate media gatekeepers!

Or are we?

Why did we have newspapers in the first place? What was the rationale of hiring journalists – of becoming journalists – and of distributing papers by the tens or hundreds of thousands, regardless of how many of them may pick up a copy? Why, even now, are papers generally under a dollar per issue, despite the fact that the cost of producing it is much, much more? Certainly, we that call ourselves journalists could have chosen a profession more lucrative and comfortable. Public Relations experts earn much more than we do, and technical writers aren’t besieged by an industry that appears to be collapsing down to the bedrocks.

But the role of newspapers has always been based on the ideal that the Public Needs To Know. Doesn’t matter who the public is, doesn’t matter if it’s Left or Right, Christian or Jewish or Atheist. If it’s factual, if it’s informative, it runs – even if it stirs up a hornet’s nest downtown or on Capitol Hill. The existence and operation of newspapers, though sometimes lost under the pressures of corporate business, has always been a marriage of an ideological struggle for the Truth, and an infrastructure in which to protect those that seek it.

Blogging has yet, and may not, develop to such an extent as to provide both or either functions. Since the inception of the concept of an online journal, the act of blogging has always been intimately tied with the expression of personal viewpoints, without any form of accountability pressure. Yes, attempts have been made to make specific blogs a news source. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule. But exceptions are not the whole- without the input of an editorial source, and without the institutional protection, in both reputation and sheer money, a newspaper gives its journalists, the public simply shouldn’t expect or want blogs to replace their daily newspapers.

It’s nothing about whether or not a journalist is professionally trained and a blogger isn’t- often, bloggers can be more articulate. It is completely about who can afford to give you the absolute truth, without fear nor favor. Even if a blogger can uphold journalism’s highest principles, he or she does it with a legal vulnerability that a professional journalist simply doesn’t have.

In order to promote the dissemination of necessary and factual information to the public, we need at least that much gatekeeping, so that those that seek the truth are strong enough to fight off those that would keep them from it.


~ by Gonzo Mehum on January 26, 2009.

8 Responses to “Blogging: Still Not Journalism”

  1. The strongest issue, which has always been the problem with any sort of journalism, is that too often instead of reporting TRUTH journalists are forced to present the viewpoint of either their employers (Or in the case of bloggers their own personal viewpoints.)

    Nothing is fair and balanced.

  2. Alas, I tend to agree with Dag (or, in all likelihood, hold views far more cynical). Chomsky, Edwards, Cromwell, and others have observed the fact that journalists are faced with a serious and insurmountable problem: in order to retain their position, or stand any chance of promotion, they must remain within the boundaries of Acceptable Discussion. Those boundaries are a function of their employer, and the advertisers who keep their employer afloat: dissenting opinions that present serious challenges to the interests of advertisers, or the power structures the media company fits into, are destined for inevitable obscurity, marginalisation, and organised mockery and disinformation.

    Unfortunately, the transition to online media does not change this: there are numerous examples, at least one of which I know you will have had direct knowledge of, of online advertisers forcing behaviours on companies, or risk losing the advertising revenue.

    On the surface, blogs appear to offer an alternative for this: they are not subject – explicitly, anyway – to the influences that stymie deviation from Acceptable Discussion in more official channels. Except that… well, consider some of the reasons behind the creation of this blog. Then consider how serious deviation from Acceptable Discussion in it would be interpreted by any future or current employer. Consider how many people out there have already lost their jobs because of blog posts that the employer did not want them to make.

    Journalists might be free of some of the legal vulnerability, but they pay for that by being held responsible to shareholders and advertisers. Non-journalists need to worry nearly as much, if not more, about saying things their current or future employers may not like. Neither path is perfect, or likely to be The Truth.

  3. Because of the needs and variances of advertisers, can we be fairly certain that we are getting a fairly complete picture on many issues if we consume various news sources in concert, plus or minus the polarizing filters of blogs and opinion columns?

  4. All three of you are right in saying that newspapers and media outlets, as they are, are sometimes only marginally better than blog reporting. But corporate newspapers, while the gross majority of what’s available for public consumption, isn’t the only source, and isn’t even the only /major/ source. NPR/PBS have done arguably the best job covering the current economic crisis, and no blog has successfully garnered the respectability nor coverage of community papers for their communities.

    While a drastic change in structure- and a heavy shift to digital distribution- is necessary for news groups to survive, I still assert that they’re the preferable option over a blog-only future.

  5. They are. The institution of journalism/the n00s has the resources to do the legwork, research, and investigation on stories that they can turn around and print/post daily, as well as the immunity of the press from being silenced because they say stuff people don’t like. News feeds blogs, who take that raw material and remix it in sometimes creative ways. Without the news stream, the blogs pretty well seize up and die, or return to being online diaries of drama, wank, and life.

  6. “Return?” Isn’t that the majority of blogs anyhow?

  7. Point taken, although I think more and more people are getting into it for more serious or newslike purposes rather than just as the on-line diary for everyone to see.

  8. I read an interesting article from David Wong the other day, mentioning how there IS no more “mass media,” not newspapers, not 24-hour news feeds, not blogs. The proliferation of cheap and easy mass media has led to mini-media. Christians read Christian blogs. Conservatives watch FoxNews. Liberals read Funny Times. The truly depraved visit Wong argued that, while once upon awhile ago when there were only three channels and one newspaper, everyone watched the SAME news and commented on it, now everyone watches their own news and only talks to their “echo chambers” of like-minded individuals. Now, the news media then was just as much in someone’s pocket (The Network is not a new movie), but I think he has a point. In addition to professional journalism eroding, public mass consumption is eroding…and with it, communal experience.

    As for me, I rely on the SilverAdept wire (because I know Silver’s biases, and how much they match my own), the raw Associated Press feed (because there’s one less bias involved), and the Word on the Street, which usually gets me a fair, if fuzzy, version of events anyway. Your Mileage May Vary.

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