Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Blogging and journalism: the feedback loop

Today's topic in my blogging class: the relationship between blogging and journalism. I have a number of journalism majors in my class, so I'm eager to hear their responses. Rather than clutter the class blog with these longish quotes that I hope to highlight, I'm going to clutter my own blog. You can read them, if you're interested, by clicking the Keep Reading link below.

From J. D. Lasica, “Blogging as a Form of Journalism”

Branscum ticks off four cool things about Weblogs:

• Creative freedom. Part of a blog's allure is its unmediated quality. "For a working journalist, there's no luxury like the luxury of the unedited essay," she says. "I've been an editor longer than I've been a writer, and I know the value that an editor brings to your copy. Even so, there's an enormous freedom in being able to present yourself precisely as you want to, however sloppily or irrationally or erratically. I don't have an editor to pitch the story to, or a copy editor who decides he's not happy with my syntax... You think it, you write it, you put it out to the world."

• Instantaneity. "Even when you're writing for a weekly magazine, it seems like it takes forever to see your work in print," Branscum says. "With a Weblog, you hit the send key and it's out there. It's the perfect disposable journalism for our age."

• Interactivity. "It's a kick to get feedback from people you've never heard of who stumble on your Weblog," she says. Branscum estimates that 30 readers might surf her blog on a slow day and 900 might read it on a busy day, with pointers from other sites and other bloggers often driving traffic to archived material.

• Lack of marketing constraints. "The people who are interested in your perspective find you, instead of you having to find a publication that reflects their interests," she says. "You don't have to necessarily tailor your work for a certain readership or demographic."

* * * *

Fleishman doesn't buy into the standard blogger mantra that unmediated writing is superior to copy that has passed through the editorial sausage factory. He finds blogging neither superior nor inferior to traditional journalism — just infinitely fascinating. "One of the most interesting things about blogs is how often they've made me change my mind about issues," he says. "There's something about the medium that lets people share opinions in a less judgmental way than when you interact with people in the real world."

That's what seems to resonate with bloggers: not the publication of a first-person journal but the chain of interaction it often ignites. Says Fleishman: "Someone spots an article or commentary you've posted, which triggers a blog entry, which triggers further responses, and before you know it your blog becomes part of an interactive discussion in this obscure backwater of the Web that's being read and cited by thousands of people. It's pretty amazing."

From Stacy D. Kramer, “Journos and Bloggers: Can Both Survive?”

Blogger Claude Muncey's notes from the session include this advice:

What journalists can learn from bloggers:
-- you can blur the line between the personal and professional without corrupting the process;
-- you can learn to improvise in real time;
-- how to have a conversation with their readers;
-- to be humble - you don't know everything.

Bloggers can learn from journalists:
-- the value of leg work;
-- the nature of accountablility;
-- that editing is a good thing;
-- to be humble - you don't know everything.

From Robert Niles, “The Importance of Blogging in Journalism Education”

I require all my students at USC Annenberg to blog, regardless of class topic, with the idea that blogging gets students in the habit of writing, and in a conversational style that effective journalism needs.

(And see the sample student blogs.)

From Don Gillmor, Introduction to We the Media

But something else, something profound, was happening this time around: news was being produced by regular people who had something to say and show, and not solely by the “official” news organizations that had traditionally decided how the first draft of history would look. This time, the first draft of history was being written, in part, by the former audience. It was possible—it was inevitable—because of new publishing tools available on the Internet.

Another kind of reporting emerged during those appalling hours and days. Via emails, mailing lists, chat groups, personal web journals—all nonstandard news sources—we received valuable context that the major American media couldn’t, or wouldn’t, provide.

We were witnessing—and in many cases were part of—the future of news.

* * * *
I was in the audience, reporting in something close to real time by publishing frequent conference updates to my weblog,an online journal of short web postings, via a wireless link the conference had set up for attendees. So was another journalist weblogger, Doc Searls, senior editor of Linux Journal, a softwaremagazine.

Little did we know that the morning’s events would turn into a mini-legend in the business community. Little did I know that the experience would expand my understanding of how thoroughly the craft of journalism was changing.

One of my posts noted Nacchio’s whining, observing that he’d gotten seriously richer while his company was losing much of its market value—another example of CEOs raking in the riches while shareholders, employees, and communities got the shaft. Seconds later I received an email from Buzz Bruggeman, a lawyer in Florida, who was following my weblog and Searls’s from his office in Orlando. “Ain’t America great?” Bruggeman wrote sarcastically, attaching a hyperlink to a Yahoo! Finance web page showing that Nacchio had cashed in more than $200 million in stock while his company’s stock price was heading downhill. This information struck me as relevant to what I was writing, and I immediately dropped this juicy tidbit into my weblog, with a cyber-tip of the hat to Bruggeman. (“Thanks, Buzz, for the link,” I wrote parenthetically.) Doc Searls did likewise.

“Around that point, the audience turned hostile,” wrote Esther Dyson, whose company, Edventure Holdings, held the conference.1 Did Doc and I play a role? Apparently. Many
people in the luxury hotel ballroom—perhaps half of the executives,financiers, entrepreneurs, and journalists—were also online that morning. And at least some of them were amusing themselves by following what Doc and I were writing. During the remainder of Nacchio’s session, there was a perceptible chill toward the man. Dyson, an investor and author, said later she was certain that our weblogs helped create that chill.2

* * * *

The person in our little story who tasted journalism’s future most profoundly, I believe, was neither the professional reporter nor the newsmaker, but Bruggeman. In an earlier time, before technology had collided so violently with journalism, he’d been a member of an audience. Now, he’d received news about an event without waiting for the traditional coverage to arrive via newspapers or magazines, or even web sites. And now he’d become part of the journalistic process himself—a citizen reporter whose knowledge and quick thinking helped inform my own journalism in a timely way.

Bruggeman was no longer just a consumer. He was a producer. He was making the news.

* * * *
This evolution—from journalism as lecture to journalism as a conversation or seminar—will force the various communities of interest to adapt. Everyone, from journalists to the people we cover to our sources and the former audience, must change their ways. The alternative is just more of the same.

We can’t afford more of the same. We can’t afford to treat the news solely as a commodity, largely controlled by big institutions. We can’t afford, as a society, to limit our choices.

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