June 12, 2009 Leave a comment
Can an enthusiast blogger generate the level of experience and credibility of a card-carrying journalist?
In part 2 of our series on journalism, newspapers, and the new media, we look at a comparison of bloggers and professional journalists. The question, recently voiced with strong emotion by David Simon (film producer and former reporter for the Baltimore Sun), asks whether or not bloggers can adequately research and write on topics traditionally reported on by professional journalists.
In a powerful speech given to the National Press Corps in Washington DC, Simon expressed concern that the art of reporting, performed by professional journalists, is being lost. This is partly the result of local newspapers being shut down, or with local news being replaced by wire service content.
Professional journalists and reporters spend years developing their skills, personal networks and sources, and are able to dig into stories at a level not possible by a casual or enthusiast blogger. In addition, the reporter has editors and the media institution behind him, providing not only support, but also a professional team to ensure facts are straight and good form is maintained.
A blogger, in general, does not need to walk a beat, develop a core of informants and news resources, and in most cases will post their blog without any 3rd party or professional editing. Fact checking and topical accuracy are not as important as blogging frequency and search engine optimization.
Rick Daysog, reporter for the Honolulu Advertiser is not as pessimistic as Simon. While he agrees good journalism requires a lot of “gumshoeing,” he also believes there is a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge within the blogging community. Daysog also believes there are many people who are “very good writers, but do not fall into an institutional framework.”
This could be based on prior experience, or they have specialized skills in niches that a typical journalist might not be able to comprehend or effectively present in print. Reviewing the Honolulu Advertiser website, there are no less than 50 featured blogs where professional and registered local bloggers discuss topics ranging from sports, to entertainment, to business news, to lifestyles.
As blogging and immediate access to news and web pages further evolves, we will need to accept the reality that blogging does come with some compromise. We will see spelling errors, grammatical errors, and style errors. We will need to assume anything we read cannot be consumed with 100% confidence, as there is no fact checking, forcing non-institutional blog consumers to assume a credibility margin of error.
Bloggers reporting on events, such as a school board meeting, may be able to record the event as a binary image. Recording events forces you to believe in everything you see, and accept that as a reality.
In the Army, deception is nearly as important as reality. You want to present a strength, weakness, or condition to a potential enemy, while masking the real information behind a façade. Directly recording an event presents a similar danger. While a non-professional recorder can make a tape, snap a picture, and transcribe the event into a blog, and professional reporter will probably approach the same event differently.
The professional reporter will develop resources, ask many “why?” questions, play dumb to get the actors to open up and go into teaching mode, or simply drill into the facts to audit accuracy. Then he will match information developed with the event he recorded, and the result will be a new story. All with the advantage of professional editing and compliance with style.
As a police investigator may believe that crime witnesses are not credible, as they lack professional observation skills, the blogger may be considered a recorder of events and commit similar errors.
So the burden is on us – the blog reader, to determine if what we are reading is meeting our information needs.
In the next segment of this series we will explore the idea of paid .vs unpaid journalism, and the value of information.
John Savageau, Long Beach