Tuesday, February 26, 2008
The Blog Ghetto
As someone who began "blogging" just over a year ago, I don't really identify myself as a blogger in the way that most early adapters do. So I usually don't get too wrapped up in debates about the relative merits of blogging vs. reporting. But like Andrew Sullivan, I was surprised to see the NY Times write-up of Josh Marshall and TPM's Polk Award for their US Attorney coverage reference the "stigma" attached to blogging. Here's the quote:
"[H]e operates a long way from the cliched pajama-wearing, coffee-sipping commentator on the news."
Now, the fact that this sentence shows up in a NY Times article in February 2008 has so many layers of ridiculousness to it that it's hard to figure out which one to unravel first.
Ridiculous layer no. 1)
I mentioned that I just contracted a freelance editing gig working for a newspaper trade publication. It consists of sifting through content (from their blog, no less) and synthesizing it into coherent articles. I'd say that about half of the articles I end up with mention -- among the many ways that newspapers are scrambling to integrate new media into their content delivery models -- the proliferation of blogs springing up on newspaper online editions. I'm too lazy to check, but I'd bet dollars to donuts that the reporter who wrote the Times profile has got a blog, or else contributes to one, either on the Times site itself, or privately.
A good deal of the rest of the articles I end up with mention the newspaper industry's enthusiasm for citizen journalists, and their increasing experimentation with volunteer reporters. This is of course driven by the challenging revenue outlook and the demand for content. But the fact is, in the battle between the MSM model and the blog model now being waged in newsrooms worldwide, the blog model is carrying the day.
Ridiculous layer no. 2)
The idea that blogs are in some way a novel activity is absurd. Having opinions and expressing them is probably the second oldest profession known to humankind. (In all likelihood, it springs from the first.) That's why newspapers employ op-ed columnists. Now it's true that these are usually experienced reporters who have worked their way up the ranks through the obscure metrics that preceded the measurement of web traffic: accuracy, ability to maintain sources, reader popularity or responsiveness, invitations to popular talk shows, etc. In other words, they have accumulated a certain authority.
But at a certain point, these experienced journalists begin trafficking in opinions that far exceed not only their own limited expertise, but also any objective measure of the accuracy of what's being expressed. I'm thinking here of pronouncements on what America believes, or what's driving independent voters, and the like. At that point, there's little that differentiates them from the bloggers who engage them, other than the number of people who take their opinion seriously. And that's a metric that doesn't always work in the op-ed writer's favor.
Ridiculous layer no. 3)
If you compare the news media to a sports broadcast, reporters are the play-by-play announcers, op-ed writers are the color commentary, and bloggers are the folks sitting around the set watching the game. Now, as anyone whose ever watched a game with a group of friends knows, you don't do it in silence. You shout, cheer, make observations, and more often than not you tell the color announcer to shut his trap because he doesn't know what he's talking about. The power of the internet is that it got the folks sitting around watching the game into the broadcast booth, and suddenly the color man has to answer to more than just the TV critic of the local paper.
But even there, blogging is nothing new. It's talk radio, written down and hyperlinked, with a range (from Rush Limbaugh to Diane Reems) that's just as broad. So, really, it's time for reporters to get over it. Everybody else has.