Business - Written by Denis Hancock on Thursday, August 21, 2008 11:49 - 9 Comments
Surprise: Another journalist hates the blogosphere
It seems that hardly a day passes without a journalist trashing the blogosphere – and for some reason it tends to happen most often when someone is writing about sports. Christie Blatchford is among the most recent – see “I’m not blogging this, mark my words” on the Globe and Mail website. While I’ve written about this topic fairly extensively before (see here, here, and here in particular), a few of her points – all centered around the negative effect blogs are having on journalism – made me want to dig into the subject a little more. Notably:
And journalism wasn’t meant to be a conversation, anyway. It was maybe a monologue, at its most democratic a carefully constructed dialogue. If readers didn’t like or agree with the monologues in paper A, they bought paper B. What was most important about their opinions was that they thought enough to spend the coin.
I agree with the start of this to a point – while I believe there is certainly a role for “conversations” in journalism, what I’m most interested in from great journalists tends to be their monologue. In short, depending on the topic area, I want great insights, great entertainment, or both. But what I wanted to focus on here was the paper A versus paper B idea – and how the blogosphere is been blamed for a few things it might not be responsible for.
Ignoring blogs all together, one of the great things about the web has been individuals don’t have to pick between only a handful of newspapers for perspectives on a given topic (i.e. A vs. B), but rather select from among thousands. My sense is what a lot of journalists are experiencing is that they grew comfortable working for paper A and competing against B, but now find themselves competing with B through ZXTRQ. They then blame the blogs, whether they are the real problem or not.
Christine’s article is written from the Olympics, which is a particularly poignant case in point. While she focuses on Dimanno trying to report on Phelps 8th gold medal with less than 5 minutes to craft her story, that’s mainly a time zone issue (needing to meet the print deadlines). But let’s look at what she was up against, now that a few days have passed.
When I typed “Phelps eighth gold” into Google News, I had 9,155 hits – and almost all of them seemed to be associated with “traditional” newspapers. I scrolled through the first 30 pages of links or so, and I found literally hundreds of different journalists that had written a story about it. It was really, really hard to tell one story from another – and MAYBE one or two stood out. This isn’t the blogosphere’s fault, it’s the Internet’s “fault” – journalists now have to compete with many more of their counterparts, and truth be told many of them don’t seem to have a differentiated point of view.
This is the democratization wrought by the Web, and if it has actually helped open up closed societies such as China’s, in the West its chief effect, at least upon journalism, is to diminish whatever craft, and there is some, is left in the business… It is not true that anyone can write. It is not true that anyone can write on deadline. It is not true that anyone can do an interview….
This is a very good articulation of the most common journalist complaint that I come across – that because anyone can blog now, the craft of journalism has been diminished by the belief “anyone” can write. However, I think it misses the key point that the vast, vast majority of us “common folks” would greatly prefer to read a well-written, thoughtful piece than some random gibberish on a random blog. I would also argue that the vast, vast majority of us don’t have time to be searching through the millions of blogs out there, and are comfortable returning to a particular site (or paper) regularly if the content is compelling enough.
But how have many journalists reacted? As referenced in the article in the story of Matt Sekeres, they are “… committing (their) most idle thoughts and mundane observations if not to paper, then to its modern equivalent, a blog.” I see this all the time – give a journalist a page with “blog” at the top, and the quality of content diminishes rapidly.
I don’t get it, and I’ve never gotten it – the “blog” is simply a new form of publishing tool, but for some reason many thoughtful and insightful writers have decided that instead of approaching it the same way they would an article for print media (i.e. create something compelling), they replicate the worst of the blogosphere, mashing together a collection of random thoughts, then occasionally stopping to complain about it.
I could go on, but I realize I’m now making one of the “cardinal sins” of blogging – writing a post that’s too long. However, I want to end by mentioning one of my favorites sites to get people thinking more positively about the blogosphere, Sports Guy’s World. I wrote about his site awhile back (see here), but one of the more interesting things to do on his site is read the articles that are only on the website, and those that are published in the ESPN Magazine. From my experience the former are almost always better than the latter – notably because they are unbounded by word constraints associated with print media, and I believe the editors give him a little more leeway.
It should be noted that The Sports Guy actually represents what many journalists hate – he doesn’t so much report stories as offer his rather entertaining opinion – but I’d be interested to see what would happen if a few more journalists actually tried to use the web, or dare I say blogosphere, to create better content than they do when bounded by things like print constraints and fixed deadlines. I would imagine many would flame out, given my sense is that many of them just aren’t good enough – but the best of the best might just find a very loyal audience.
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