Blogging, like onions, has many layers

Someone in my family is a journalist.  Newspaper reporter to be exact.  For the purposes of this post, I’ll call her Miss Story.  Because of Miss Story, I’ve had an ear to the ground about the decline of newspapers (and by extension mainstream media) for quite awhile with regards to layoffs, buyouts, and other such information that’s come out in recent months as to the hard times facing networks and papers.  It’s no secret, mainstream media is suffering.  I’m torn about it.  I don’t want Miss Story to lose her job.  If that happens, the likelihood of her finding another job at a different newspaper is nonexistent.  I wrote a post a couple years ago when I was told about the sale of her paper to a conglomerate and her fears of losing her job.  At the time, I was saddened by the news.  I thought it a step in the wrong direction for media and accountability in journalism, with one major conglomeration owning and controlling the content released under their name. 

 

But a couple years later, I see that what’s happened is that, with the help of the Internet and the explosion in popularity of blogs, the control of content has veered from the hands of mainstream media and into the hands of the consumers of the content, the public; and as a blogger, I’m intensely excited about that.  News and social media are changing, evolving the way people become informed.  How much more interested are you in the political opinion of a blogger whose website you’ve read for months or years and have the ability to comment on, as opposed to that of a pundit on a talk show whose opinion you haven’t the means to openly debate?  I know I take the voices of some of the MOMocrats more seriously than anything on CSPAN.  They talk about issues that are close to home for me, and in a way that I can get behind – even though the contributors often have respectfully dissenting opinions – as well as leave my own opinions in the comments.  I feel that in the blogosphere I have a chance to voice an opinion in a place where, if the swell of my voice gathers supporters or joins another swell of voices shouting the same things, it’s possible to get issues close to my heart heard by many, and potentially those in positions to actually enact change.  

 

Then there’s the issue of speed.  In a world where instantaneous is becoming a reality moreso than a buzz word, the speed at which information becomes available is key.  Last week, the first information on the earthquake in Illinois came out on Twitter.  It was a number of minutes before the news made the mainstream media airwaves in terms of television special bulletins.  But people, individuals, were discussing their experiences and getting a feel for what was going on from the other people experiencing the shaking.  Confirmation of the quake came not from a news channel report, but from someone’s (I think Raquita’s) link on Twitter to the U.S. Geological Survey website.  Reporters are being scooped by individuals with an internet connection and a desire to tell the world what they see and think about their surroundings, and the world is reading.

 

We as bloggers actually have the power to shape the way people get their news.  Mainstream media isn’t sure how to handle this just yet, and the industry itself is struggling, trying to redefine itself into a workable model that evolves and melds with the way the public receives their information and news.  I’ve no doubt such evolution will happen, that we’re going to see a complete restructuring of how mainstream media operates as opposed to the death of mainstream media.  Social Media job titles are cropping up all over the place, and blog pages are appearing on newspaper websites as the writers attempt to find the blogging connection so many others I’ve heard tout as their reason for preferring blogs over papers now.  This blog post by David Wescott, a specialist in “issues-based online communication and outreach” according to his about page, delves into much of the reaction of the mainstream media to bloggers breaking news.  He equates it to the Kubler-Ross 5 Stages of Grief.

 

One portion of his post comes to my attention, mainly because I asked Miss Story what she thought of the post to get a journalist’s perspective.  In the Anger stage, Wescott points out that mainstream media is saying we bloggers aren’t journalists.  He links to a very interesting opinion piece from a journalist covering the 2004 presidential election, indicating the problems with blogging as journalism.

 

Miss Story has her own ideas about blogging’s place in the social media scheme of things.  Namely, bloggers aren’t always accurate.  As a reporter, Miss Story is held accountable to the facts she publishes.  She goes to a lot of trouble to make sure her words are true and properly attributed to sources in the stories she writes.  She says:

 

When you’re talking about opinion, yeah, bloggers can compete and have valid opinions same as anyone else. But for news stories, they’re a bit of a problem. I’ve had members of the public call me and ask “why haven’t you written a story about such and such – it was on the [local blog] site” and I’m like “Because it’s not TRUE,” but because they read it, they believe it and don’t take my word for it.

 

 

After going to the trouble of getting the story straight, it would be frustrating to see someone else writing about the same thing and getting it wrong, and having that blogger’s readers question your facts that you worked hard to obtain because they have an allegiance to the blogger.  It’s a multi-layered issue to be sure, and is bound to be complicated by bloggers questioning the accuracy of the news media as well, such as in the case of the Guild’s very own founder, Dana Loesch, who was, just this week, stung by reporting on a trademark infringement situation with another blogger in California.

 

Such troubles are bound to happen on both sides of the fence as we bloggers eek out our place in the scheme of things and mainstream media scrambles to redefine itself for more modern times.  Personally, if I’m looking for news, I want it to be accurate and objective, as well as timely and unhindered by media spin.  I see validity in both sides’ claims.  No, we bloggers aren’t journalists.  Maybe that can be a good thing in some instances, with the one-on-one feel of blogging and the communities that are spawned from the interaction of comment conversations, the personal level of stories shared that give us the human side of life.  On the other hand, I don’t want to be misled by reading Aunt Sally’s blog when she didn’t check before writing about a rumor she heard about Clinton and Obama getting into a fistfight in Pennsylvania. 

 

I guess, no matter the method of information delivery, the old adage still applies: you can’t believe everything that you read, and a healthy dose of skepticism is called for as all forms of media advance.

 

 

* This post was written and submitted by Andrea.

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6 Responses to “Blogging, like onions, has many layers”

  1. It’s an interesting debate, one that St. Louis’ own Bob Costas recently spoke about:

    http://sports.aol.com/fanhouse/2008/03/14/costas-blogs-a-high-tech-place-for-idiots/

    Costas received a lot of flak– and not just from bloggers– for his statements. But I do think they were, to a certain extent, taken out of context. I think it’s just as you said (as it is with everything): there are good/qualified/knowledgable people, and there are those who aren’t. And they exist in both mainstream media, as well as social media.

    To presume that all journalists are ethically upholding journalistic standards is naive; just as it naive to assume that anyone with a blog should be taken seriously.

    Great post, Andrea.

  2. The major difference between blogs and journalists is fact checkers. Journalists usually have an editor or two who may or may not have expertise in the issue [cough] typeface Dan Rather[cough]. Bloggers, through the blogosphere, have as many fact-checkers as we have readers -and we’re far more accountable to our readers than newspapers are.

    Our readers also tend to have deep knowledge about the industry we write in, while newspaper readers and journalists tend to have only what their sources tell them.

    Are bloggers100%accurate? Of course not – but the corrections in the blogosphere are lightning fast in comparison with newspapers, and the information can be updated on the same post. How often does that happen with Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman, etc?

    The general public is getting more and more news from blogs for one reason. Newspapers have failed in meeting their own journalistic standards. There never really was an impartial and fair-minded press – no history student would fall for that – but it’s all moot now.

    Do newspapers want to meet bloggers in the here and now? Can they transition? There is a difference between edited content and opinion, but there’s no reason that the mainstream media has to suggest they deserve the title.

    They have to earn it, over and over – not as a group, but individually.

  3. I generally don’t believe what I read…whether it be the paper or a blog. When I say “don’t believe” I mean I don’t take anything as gospel. However, I will use it as an input. Frequently, bias is obvious, sometimes it’s not.

    I think as a group, blogs tend to be more opinion, as the fact checking and/or balanced view is virtually non-existent. There are certainly exceptions to this, though.

    I know that for myself, I don’t have the time or energy to devote to this type of journalism, or blogging. This is why I write about my life, instead! It’s pretty clear that everything on my website is opinion, I think.

    I don’t think that many of the portal website do such a great job, either. I constantly find factual errors that would have been simple to look up. A recent example on MSN was a “comparison” of DSLRs. They made a large number of gaffs that could have been caught just by reading the data sheet from the manufacturer! For example, they totally missed that the Sony Alpha DSLRs use the same auto-focus lenses Minolta and Konica-Minolta had. They also missed the large number of third party lenses. In the article, they implied that “not many lenses were available for the camera” when in fact there are very many. HUNDREDS.

    I guess in the modern world, we just have to accept that others aren’t going to be doing the work for us. We have to do our own fact-checking, whether the original source is a blog or mainstream.

  4. Miss Story just sent me the following email in response to Jim’s comment and I think it’s important to get this point of view out there so, with permission, I’m copying and pasting it here:

    The Bob Costas post is really interesting but the one after that couldn’t be further fromt he truth.

    You know how many times bloggers in my community have issued corrections after they became aware something on their site was wrong? ZERO. Maybe that’s just been my experience and let’s hope it is…

    Don’t get me wrong. I love blogs. I HAVE a blog. But anyone saying there’s more accountability with a blog than with a newspaper is dreaming. Blog: there’s one guy who may or may not name himself. Newspaper: there are several layers of editors … oh and our NAMES are out there for everyone to see, so we’d better not make a mistake and if we do, we’d better correct it.

    With my job being threatened on a daily basis after seven years of college/grad school and even more years of hard work and proving myself, I can’t stand to listen people who woke up one day and decided they’re going to start disseminating ‘better, more accurate’ information to the reading public via an anonymous blog with no accountability.

    Like I said, I’m not saying there aren’t great blogs out there, but I tell you what, when newspapers (and their web sites) are officially dead because no one subscribes anymore and all us journalists are living in homeless shelters, readers are going to wake up and wonder where we are. But by then, it’ll be too late.

    I’m not saying ‘don’t get your news from blogs’… I’m saying don’t get ALL of your news from blogs.

  5. Great post, Andrea! This is such an interesting issue. I was just talking to the husband of a local reporter who was telling me that my local paper is currently trying to beef up the blogs on the newspaper website to get more readers.

    The rise of journalist bloggers writing for newspaper websites has been a growing trend as well. Perhaps that’s a marriage made in heaven so to speak.

  6. My mom’s a (retired) journalist, so I grew up with my own press pass and the notion of media fairness and balance ingrained as a part of my soul. As an editor for smaller newspapers, she spent as many hours checking facts as trimming stories …. I identify with Miss Story’s plight. But unfortunately, I think the corporate media have largely brought this on themselves. Yes, blogs often portray inaccurate information, but frankly, the court of public opinion will largely correct itself by ignoring or flaming blatantly misrepresentations. People know to read blogs with a salt shaker nearby, and that most blogs make no pretense of balanced reporting.

    The newspaper, on the other hand, does, and when I see factual errors in the Post-Dispatch (and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the multitude of other papers I read in the course of a week), I know that the mistake will largely stand. The retraction won’t print on the front page like the story did, and any reader corrections will be printed at the paper’s discretion.

    Newspaper blogs have promise, but the person who really wants to be informed will read a variety of newspapers from throughout the world, and blogs with a variety of points of view, and average it.

    An excellent post. This looks like it has the potential to be a great clearinghouse on a lot of media-related issues. Very exciting.

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