Thursday, May 04, 2006

What journalists and bloggers can learn from each other.

With millions of bloggers throwing their thoughts, observations and commentary out into the ether, the term “journalist” has begun to return to its root word of “journal.” Anyone with internet access can voice their opinion, which means that the wall between trained professional journalists and bloggers, which some call “citizen journalists,” has been broken down. But the informal atmosphere of a blog has also encouraged poor writing and bloggers tend to ignore the conventions that has made other published material into authoritative and influential sources.

Steve Outing, the former senior editor at the Poynter Institute, posted a set of articles in late December on the ways that journalists and bloggers can learn from each other. He argued that journalists and bloggers have nothing to fear from each other and that both can benefit from learning the methods of the other.

Bloggers, he said, tend to be more transparent and make corrections more quickly and place them more prominently than newspaper journalists are willing or able to do. Bloggers are also more willing to admit their personal biases. While the mainstream media pursue the unattainable goal of objectivity, bloggers proudly announce their bias and feel freer to focus on what they believe to be the most important part of a new story instead of spending time on a minority opinion or one that they disagree with.

However, bloggers also need to realize that journalistic values like editing, reporting, ethics, and accuracy make for a better blog. The ones who take their work seriously and professionally are rewarded with a larger audience who respects their opinions. The vast majority who don’t take their work seriously are in turn not taken seriously and will never advance to the point of notoriety.

In all, we must understand that blogging is a new medium. Just as cassette recorders can be used to film idiotic backyard fighting or sophomoric home music videos, they can also be used to create sophisticated, low-budget works of art. Those who take the medium seriously will rise to the top and those who dabble will only amuse themselves. No real harm to established journalistic practice is likely to come from blogging, with the very real advantage that journalism just may become more interactive and dynamic as reporters learn that readers want more personality in their news.

3 comments:

  1. There is a very fine line one should never cross. There are bloggers that would like to think of themselves as citizen journalists and then there are bloggers that think of themselves as hosts of an online version of a talk radio. Finally, we have bloggers, who are just spouting their commentary on whatever subject at a given moment. Just as I may choose to occassionally post a couple of thoughts on Jim Cramer's stock picks or my opinion of a news story on PBS's The Newshour or a news story on ABC's World News Tonight. The moment I choose to spout my opinions, I stop being a journalist and become a commentator. Most bloggers have no desire whatsoever to pursue a part-time hobby of citizen journalism, but have every intention to tell friends and family exactly what is on their mind. Therefore, the safest assumption, and perhaps an unreasonable assumption, in reading a blog of an unknown individual is that he is spouting his own views and not practicing journalism.

    As for the goal of journalistic objectivity, journalists have an ethical obligation to society at large to try to be objective even though one may be incapable of setting aside one's bias. At the same time, policymakers at the highest levels rely on what former Secretary of State James Baker calls 'the media play' or, commonly, referred to as the view of Main Street America, or in some cases, Wall Street on a given policy. The open bias of a blogger in most cases only reflects one's personal view, not that of Main Street. That is the difference between a journalist and a blogger is in their responsibility. One has an ethical obligation to society and the other has none.

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  2. I agree that blogs do not threaten the foundations of journalism, but a concern I have about "citizen journalists" is not only their lack of formal training, but the absence of an editor. I feel an editor's role is key for a reporter of any skill level and that people might be quick on the draw in terms of thinking, writing and posting without consulting someone before.

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  3. First of all, what a collection of blogs. I aspire to do so much. I agree with most of your blogs for our class, especially in that blogs are no real threat to journalism. Even though people can have a blog to spout off about a certain topic, doesnt make them a journalist. I think we both agree that journalistic balance in news sources is vital in news gathering.

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