There seems to have been a very interesting conversation started among RochesterTurning, Fighting29th, Ontario Republican and the 13WHAM.com blog about the nature of blogging. Evan Dawson has been asking what the opinion of local bloggers is of blogging and journalism, and I just figured I’d go ahead and chime in. Hope that’s OK, fellas?
Evan asked the following:
1) Elmer writes on The Fighting 29th that blogs offer a real chance to find misinformation. While that might be true, doesn’t it seem that blogs are rising as a form of respected journalism?
To the extent that blogging is journalism – or rather, in those cases where it might be seen as journalism – the quality of the content does indeed have the potential to be quite suspect. Then again, the recent history of main stream journalism doesn’t leave traditional news outlets with much to crow about in the veracity department. Mr. Dawson points out the Fast Ferry debacle as one local example, but there are many others.
Actually, blog journalism and traditional journalism have a lot more in common than is generally acknowledged, and perhaps if traditional media considered blogging a return to roots, our democracy’s informed public would be much better off. If you look at many articles posted to the D&C or any other traditional print publication, you will find that the story that runs isn’t really original reporting by the paper in question, but rather a reprinting of an AP news ticker story with perhaps a bit of editing and a few paras thrown in about the local reaction to the story. The same goes for television and radio news, where reports by correspondents from outside the station are rebroadcast. Additional local context or editorializing is done by the anchor before and after the piece. This is not one or two stories, but rather a consistent pattern.
Blogs do much of the same, though the ratio of original content is often opposite: we usually read a full article from a traditional source, quote a paragraph or two, link back to it and then add our own reporting, commentary or whatever along side it. I have often said that blogging might be thought of in many cases as “meta-journalism,” adding additional context to stories carried by mainstream media, or taking two or three stories and putting them together to paint a more complete picture that might get missed when reporting gets too far into the weeds.
So while traditional outlets often advertise themselves with pretentious tag lines like “the most trusted name in news,” or “digging for answers, reporting them first,” the truth is that they are rarely the sole source of information, they rely on collaboration and fair use as much as any blogger, and in fact they are at least as given to inaccuracy as the blogging community and more so.
Why more so? Because the very nature of the Internet – let alone blogging – is collaborative and based on collective assent. Open Source software, for example, relies on many programmers to write code and check each other’s work, and only when that work gets accepted by a plurality is it included in the project. This here blog is proudly powered by one of the greats of Open Source: WordPress. Similarly, bloggers have the ability to spew off whatever ignorant or factually incorrect garbage they want to, but in order for there to be a general consensus of fact, many blogs, bloggers and readers have to agree that what is being said is factual. That’s not as easy nor as prone to mistakes as you might think. Come to think of it, Elmer, the reader from whence the question originates, is a notorious fact checker.
You don’t earn readers by making statements you can’t back up. You don’t earn respect in the blogging community without linking back to where you got your facts from. Obviously, some of us have a few anonymous sources and avenues of finding information that we can’t always disclose. But by and large, debating an issue without proving you are right with external verification is a losing proposition on the Internet. Hence, hyperlinks and quotations become sort of an inline bibliography from where you back your reporting up. No such vehicle exists or ever has existed for traditional journalism.
The tremendous advantage that MSM sources do have is resources. This is the primary reason that large media outlets are not likely to go away: having a plurality of journalists – some hired, some freelance – all covering one story for your paper means you get access to stuff we bloggers don’t get. Having a television station that reaches an entire constituency means getting interviews and access we bloggers don’t enjoy.
But having those advantages also means having tremendous responsibility as well. That responsibility is not always lived up to, and so blogs also perform the job of fact-checking the media from time to time.