What I Don't Know About Journalism

Nothing to say

What do I know about journalism? Not much, and right now that may be a good thing. Continuing my journey through the old media/new media debate, it becomes clear that many journalists are being forced into the fray by newly aware bosses; the times—and The Times—they are a changin'. Since I'm not a journalist, I have the luxury of looking at the situation through the eyes of the casual observer. I don't mean to imply ambivalence; I'm an information consumer like everyone else, and I'm affected by these changes. I have a stake in the outcome. But there's no edict in my inbox telling me how my professional life is about to change. No one has handed me a fiat saying my articles will now be referred to as blog posts, and by the way, the readers will be in touch, constantly and incessantly, and you, dear journalist, will respond in kind. That is, if you value your job.

No, I'm just a consumer, so my only responsibility is to sit back and consume. And I will like the new media, because it's interactive, and content-rich. I will like the new media because it isn't the old media, and that's where my analysis of the situation will end, because after all, I'm just a consumer. I am a blip among blips. I am the target audience, and based on the latest intelligence from the front, squarely in the crosshairs of the marketing corps. As long as it has the look and feel of new media, I'll keep swimming in the revenue stream.

Um . . . not necessarily. The thing is, I've seen what happens when you take a wrench to something just because you happen to have a toolbox lying around. Some things are already as good as they're ever going to get; you can weld a third axle to your car, but that doesn't make it suitable for pulling a semi-trailer. In a similar vein, you can weld a blog to your local news channel, or newspaper, but the result isn't necessarily an improvement. Where I live, the local media have done exactly that, and the results are appalling. None of them were exactly paragons of journalism in the first place, but they were about as good as one could expect, given the locale. Now they're worse, and in some cases, merely absurd. Before, they were at least functional: they reported the news. Add the look and feel of new media, and now you have the same news, but with the dubious benefit of blogs from an already overworked staff who are suddenly expected to run daily posts up the flagpole for public discussion, quid pro quo. If they were allowed to libel their employers with impunity, you might have an interesting new concept here. Alas, they are not, so it's the same mediocrity as before, only dressed up a bit for the sake of appearances.

Of course, this isn't the situation where quality content was the rule long before the ye shall blog proclamation came down. New media can enhance what's already good, but poor content is only further exposed. Public-access cable programs haven't robbed NBC of all its viewers any more than YouTube will; they're different animals, and there's a place for both. From my non-journalist vantage point, the idea that Journalism will be taken over by amateur bloggers seems absurd, and the concept of bloggers made irrelevant by journalists is equally incomprehensible. There are obvious similarities between journalism and blogging, but one is a profession, while the other is a vehicle. Take the blog away from the journalist and you haven't altered the occupation at all; remove the blogger's blog, and you've created a vacuum.

What do I know about journalism? Not much, but I know what I like. I like to be informed, but I want the whole story, and not just someone's version of it. I form my own opinions, but I base those opinions on as many facts as I have available to me. I don't care whether those facts are presented in new-media format or basic text; facts are facts and lies are lies, no matter how they're dressed. Sometimes you can't get all the facts, and that's okay, as long as you say that. It's useful, at times, to be able to strike up a conversation with a journalist, or an editor, about a story or article they've just published; this is one of the great things about a blog. But that isn't always necessary, or even desirable; sometimes I just want to read the story, and then go on to something else. Content is more important, by far, than where the story appears; sometimes the bloggers do a better job than the professional journalists, and sometimes it's the other way around. I like both, and I don't want to see one go away at the expense of the other. I don't want to leave story ideas—i.e. "tips"—on your newspaper or television channel's site; this doesn't make me feel special, useful, or important. I don't think posting obtuse comments on your staff's blog is the same as contributing, much less collaborating; sometimes it works out, but there's nothing remotely interesting about off-topic comments and flame wars. This is true whether the blog is autonomous, or attached to the site of a media giant.

In any case, there are fundamental differences between journalism and blogging, and more than enough room for both. But if you're running a newspaper or a local TV station, it may be worthwhile to consider the differences before you launch a staff blog on your Web site. New media for its own sake won't improve the content, although it may shine a brighter light on what's been missing all along. 


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