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Business - Written by on Thursday, August 21, 2008 11:49 - 9 Comments

Denis Hancock
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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Niall Cook
Aug 21, 2008 12:16

Another journalist hates the blogosphere? Have they not yet worked out that the feeling is mutual?

Daniel J. Pritchett
Aug 21, 2008 12:31

Ms. Blatchford is lamenting the decline of a business model, not that of her revered craft. Well written and thoroughly investigated blogs will always have an eager audience.

Perhaps in the coming age of blogs long form investigative reporters will be reduced to relying on government grants to allow them to practice their craft at their own pace. You can already see a similar divide between makers of fine art and practitioners of commercial design.

Mike Dover
Aug 21, 2008 13:07

Christie Blatchford would make short work of Hancock in Greco-Roman.

Just sayin’

Aug 21, 2008 15:37

Why on earth would she want to use the Web to create better content? The Web isn’t paying her.

This close-minded thinking is the seemingly long knee-jerk reaction by traditional “journalists”. I’ve been told on repeated occasions by peers that they enjoy my writing far more than pieces they’ve read by friends with English degrees. The problem is that journalists refuse to believe that those without “classic” training cannot even be effective when it comes to writing.

Aug 22, 2008 8:02

Can’t help thinking that if journalists delivered the goods on things like integrity, honesty, independence and accuracy then maybe they would have lasted a bit longer but big media betrayed the people. Now they must pay the price.

Let’s face it, when it comes to sports, one person watches the game and updates their friends on the score occasionally by any means you like. Those friends update their friends and everyone knows. That’s pretty much sports journalism done and dusted (there wasn’t much in it to begin with).

Aug 22, 2008 13:09

I see similarities here between the journalist world and the legal world. There are lawyers who complain about legal clinics and paralegals being allowed to do lawyer work, but those lawyers typically are not very good. They know that what they do can be done by trained non-lawyers so they fear it. Good lawyers actually welcome it, because it will further deliniate what takes high skills and what does not.

I see the same thing here. No way is blogging going to replace great journalism a la the WSJ or the NYTimes, but it is going to cut into the province of the mediocre and it is usually the mediocre who complain.

Goodness Gracious, Great Blogs of Fire! » The Buzz Bin
Aug 26, 2008 11:31

[...] How do blogs compare with traditional print media? Arguments against blogs are that journalism wasn’t meant to be a conversation, and that not everyone can write a compelling piece. Denis Hancock of Wikinomics argues that blogs are “simply a new form of publishing tool.” And that blogs receive more editorial freedom, and “are unbounded by word constraints associated with print media.” [...]

Aug 27, 2008 7:58

Let’s go back to square one .. what is journalism? Seems to me that random thoughts were opinion pieces for the op ed pages. Using blogs as a quick publishing tool is one thing. Using blogs for a quick (unprofessional) rant is quite another. Can’t help but wonder if anyone “reporting” these days?

Denis Hancock
Aug 28, 2008 9:29

Great comments folks.

Toby – I think a lot of people are “reporting”, but a substantial part of reporting has long been just telling readers what happened. The challenge is that for events that are relevant to multiple jurisdictions, there are now hundreds or thousands of people reporting on the same thing.

Dan – great connection to the lawyer issue, and I think the mediocrity comment is spot on.

Tel- agree. As I’ve written about before, journalists have to collectively own up to the fact on everything from wars to steroid scandals, it sure seems like VERY few journalists bothered / were brave enough to report the truth.

Shaun – I think at some point some great writers are going to REALLY figure out how to make money off writing for the web… I really look forward to that day.

Daniel – I shudder at at the thought of government grants for journalists… though I recall writing a few months ago about that exact proposal being floated at a U.K. conference focused on the issues authors were having.

Niall – touche.

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