ThS: Blogging AS Journalism

I wrote a short while ago why blogging, as it is, cannot be considered journalism. That article remains my most-commented on to date, naturally, and for good reason – newspapers, as they are, have their own intrinsic and almost insurmountable flaws.

Advertisers, especially big-brand ones, dominate and influence news perspectives. Often, truly objective reporting on such companies only happen after a huge foul-up has already occurred – too late to do anything about it but wring our hands and not buy spinach for a few weeks. Or, if you’re unlucky, get hospitalized for that duration.

Not just food production either. Bad business practices are allowed to fester for years at a time until the stench of it can’t be ignored by the editors, affecting all major and minor industries. From Microsoft’s built-in obsolescence to the exploitation of labor in third-world countries – in the case of South American coffee and chocolate farms, outright slavery – it takes not big-name, big-publicity papers like the NYT or Tribune or MercNews to break out the word of these travesties, but minor groups and watchdog affiliates. And journalists unafraid of getting shot at a little, even.

It’s no surprise, then, that people are looking at blogging to act as the gutsy successor of the tired, meek newspaper industry. The energy of the blogging scene, though sometimes decried prematurely as dying or growing stagnant, remains vigorous and influential – growing more so, even, as conservative and liberal blogs alike garner a large enough audience to seriously dent not a few polls and elections. Such as the recent presidential election, for example, where much of the competition was held via digital channels.

So, with the problems inherent in blogging, coupled with the numerous problems crippling the newspaper industry today, are there any means of turning blogging into a proper successor to its ailing kin?

Perhaps, but as I inferred previously, it won’t be blogging as we know it today. Mainly because blogging is, for the most part, an individual venture. It lacks most of the major processes that a news story has to go through to refine it from its raw, often jumbled, state to what you read in the paper.

To put it succinctly, blogging lacks editorial oversight.

Does editorial oversight matter? After all, editors are just as fallible as any writer and perhaps far more to blame for the decline in newspaper standards and sales than the staff they oversee. But the structure of news wouldn’t be the same – or as respectable – without them. Editors are, theoretically, the check against laziness and bad research, and are the ones that formulate the overall narrative structure of a sequence and collection of stories.

Note that the former, at the very least, is the primary thing that separates journalism from blogging – a mechanism against innate human laziness, and a guarantor that the facts of a writer has been checked over. While journalism will always have a Jayson Blair in every generation, his kind is righteously considered a disgusting deviation from the honored standards of the profession – but in the blogverse, it is much harder to say who is or isn’t a Blair.

But should blog writing resemble the newsroom? Hardly. The decidedly gonzo level of self-autonomy a blogger has is one of blogging’s strengths, not weaknesses. Rather…

Take five bloggers, all familiar with the other, and each specializing in a field of interest with enough overlap for group cohesion. Assign three to edit two. Assign another three to edit two others. Rotate until everybody’s editing at least two of everybody else. Sources, contact information, raw entries, etc – just as with a newsroom, at least two people in the five-man writing team know who talked to who and when. Intrusion into what material is presented on each member’s blog should be minimal at most – and none at all for opinion content, certainly – but a quality standard should certainly be in place.

I am suddenly reminded of the archetypal rock band format. Anyhow.

The strength of this proposed system is that the editorial process more closely resembles a writer’s workshop in that the others act as a beta reader, rather than the top-down hierarchy of standard journalism. The writer has a large amount of freedom to pursue stories as deep as he or she’ll have them go. Even revenue’ll be fairly easy to handle – separate Google Adsense accounts per blog? Project Wonderful has a fascinating way of pairing advertisers with websites too. Online advertising, while not as massive as a direct, thousand-dollar check for a particularly sweet piece of newspaper real estate, manages to be profitable enough for use, and avoids many of the major traps and pitfalls that plague how we currently fund our news.

The legal problems with blogging still exist, alas, but is sufficiently far outside my own range of knowledge for me to comment on intelligently. Suffice to say, without a pocket-lawyer on the staff, such a group would find good karma to donate part of their profits to the Electronic Frontier Foundation…


~ by Gonzo Mehum on February 10, 2009.

6 Responses to “ThS: Blogging AS Journalism”

  1. So what stops bloggers from becoming editors? Scientists have a peer-review system that requires no real top-down authority to pronounce an item fit for publication, or to point out and correct errors in process or results. I think it would be possible to put much of that kind of system in place for news – source documents available on request, possibly with some redactions or aggregations needed to protect privacy and/or security. From there, someone else can go check the work and possibly publish a different conclusion from that material. Archived material could then be hosted on-server and/or sent somewhere for addition to the record.

    Theoretically, the good bloggers will rise to the top and get followers and authenticity karma, and the bad ones will languish somewhere in mediocrity-to-obscurity.

    As for the power of news organizations to protect reporters, well, maybe they rewrite that protection to be for anything they publish? The NYT will stand by anything it publishes and protect those who contributed to it, from the time they accept the idea for publication and issue the “press pass”, whatever it may be, to the time it is published, and then that protection is withdrawn until they have another idea accepted for publication?

  2. “I am suddenly reminded of the archetypal rock band format. Anyhow.”

    Ah, but can being in a ‘Blog Band’ get you laid? That’s the important question. haha.

  3. …alas, probably not. >____>

  4. Silver, the core problem isn’t that journalists are afraid of being shot at, or prosecuted. Not primarily, anyway. There are some very courageous, capable investigative journalists out there who have put themselves in harm’s way.

    The problem you’re going to have is naming many. With a few exceptions, they will almost never appear in the mainstream media, they are shunned by the established and entrenched interests, simply because they report the stories that the mainstream don’t want to publish. They ask the questions that lie outside of acceptable discussion, the ones that challenge the necessary illusions. The ones that you do hear of in the media are the ones that go into danger, but report things in an approved fashion.

    The problem is that Big Media is complicit in the power structures it is reporting on, directly or indirectly. Media generally relies on advertisement for revenue, so there is the implicit restriction that the journalists must not stray into discussion of matters that would harm the interests of their advertisers, doing so threatens the company as a whole. Media companies and the power structures inside them are part of larger social structures that are self-maintaining: plutocratic hierarchies that pervade society. Reporting in a way that presents a serious challenge to the structure itself is beyond the boundaries of acceptable discussion.

    Sure, you’ll get discussion of individuals, even pieces, but this is all part of the necessary illusion that the media is actually doing its job properly. In reality, it is a facade in almost every case. Journalists who seriously attempt to push the boundaries find their reports vetoed, or silently left out of print, or they get shoved into side jobs, kept occupied, denied promotions, marginalised. The system defends itself implicitly, even if the people involved do not realise it.

    Physical, even legal, protection for journalists achieves nothing beyond ensuring they can write another day… but that’s essentially meaningless if the can not actually write the story. What they need is an outlet that can not be censored (consciously or unconsciously), controlled, left off the front page, or edited down to watery nothingness. They need a way to tell the real stories without fear that they won’t have a job next week. They need a way to ask the very, very difficult questions, the ones that most people don’t even know exist, without it destroying their career, or utterly ruining their life and being vilified by the media they worked for.

    The ‘free’ press is only as free as the channels it works through, and when those channels have a vested interest in not disturbing advertisers, shareholders, readers, or the system they exist in, they are not actually free. Their freedom is just a necessary illusion.

  5. Mm, so it’s less a matter of big men in suits knocking on doors and more matters of stories being buried, not chosen, or otherwise left off the page because they don’t conform to the established narrative. Hrm. Can’t solve the problem through tax-sponsored organizations, because that squelches government stories…

    …perhaps news corporations need to restructure themselves such that subscription revenue becomes the majority of revenue instead of advertising? That way, they at least print stories that their readership wants to see? Could that possibly get around the apple cart problem?

  6. …who edits this blog for accuracy?

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