Journalist blogs aren’t pointless

Alexandre points out this blog post saying that journalist blogs are pointless, mainly because they can’t offer anything new besides what they write in the paper, and they can’t be free to write whatever they want.

Allow me to disagree. Blogs come in all sorts of different types, but most can be broken down into two broad categories:

  • Personal blogs are focused on the author. They include LiveJournal pages, personal diaries, portfolios or this-is-what-I-found-online aggregators.
  • Subject-based blogs are focused on the subject. Some are group blogs, and most are impersonal.

Most journalist blogs (and, for that matter, this one) fall in between. Like newspaper columnists, they relate personal experiences to professional issues.

But not all journalist blogs are the same. Some have behind-the-stories stories, some are more personal, and some aggregate anything of interest to a particular niche. It’s the latter type that tends to be the most successful, creating a community for people interested in a particular subject. Blogs like Habs Inside/Out make use of journalists’ access to get the kinds of stories no non-journalist blog can provide.

In the end, there’s nothing inherent about blogs by journalists that make them more or less useful than the rest. In either case, interesting, frequently-updated blogs of high-quality will win out.

4 thoughts on “Journalist blogs aren’t pointless

  1. Alexandre

    Thanks for the trackback!
    Actually, it doesn’t sound like we disagree (or that you really disagree with the author). His point, it seems to me, was that blogging is meant to go beyond journalism and that many journalists probably have little use of blogging. My point is that blogging is a technology, not a writing style, and that the empowerment of people through such technology as blogging or social networking software tends to make much journalism quite pointless. There has already been the whole trend toward “citizen journalism” but it seems to me that we’re entering in a new phase as journalists learn more about online communication imply for their profession.
    In a way, blogs and other online tools are forcing journalists to go back to the roots of journalism, when it served a broader function in terms of widespread changes in social politics. The period through which we’re going now implies different types of social changes than the movements to which journalists have been accustomed in the last 150 years. Not radically different in the grand scheme of things, but different enough in terms of their involvement in the process.
    So, it’s all quite nice that they should use blogs to make public some of the material you describe but it may not be enough to maintain the relevance of journalism as a set of institutions.

    (Yes, I know, it all sounds pedantic. Just watched some Fry and Laurie…)

    Reply
  2. Neath

    Yea, everything is rapidly changing and even if the more it changes the more it stays the same, well, there is a huge shift in media going on. I used to read daily columns in newspapers habitually, but since I’ve moved to the net I rarely read newspaper columns. It might just be a matter of the audience leaving and papers are desperate to hold on to what they still have so regular writers being encouraged to blog makes sense.The net also works more in real time than papers do with their once every 24 hours hit. Newspapers are really not much about “news” anymore as they are about people who still want to have a thing in their hands to read – of course there may still be a much higher credibility level for papers and in the long run that will have to be their strength, ironically, as it has always been.

    Reply
  3. Michael Black

    Much of the time, I can’t even follow what you mean by
    “blogging”. I honestly can’t tell whether you are part of
    the cause of the hype, or merely following.

    There’s nothing new about “blogging”. Every night during
    the Fringe Festival in 1996 I’d come home and post to
    the Mirror’s BBS about what I saw and heard, trying to
    convey the essence of the Fringe, and trying by example
    to show how we could be using the online world. It wasn’t
    “blogging” since the word didn’t exist. I didn’t get the
    concept from anything online. I got it from Richard Brautigan
    and others issuing broadsides in San Francisco in 1967
    with a Gestetner machine. They didn’t just post
    announcements, or write about what happened, but at
    times even posted as things were in progress. I waited twenty
    years between reading about that and having internet access,
    twenty years before I had the printing press to do it.

    And when I met zinester Emily Pohl-Weary some years back,
    I was able to put my hands on her grandfather’s
    autobiography; I’d kept it handy because of the
    discussion of science fiction fanzines in the late thirties.
    Self-publishing, and breaking the lines between readers
    and writers.

    A few months later in 1996 when I got full internet access, I
    was posting little bits about upcoming events and things
    I’d seen to the local newsgroup, mtl.general. I was
    a) trying to show how we could use the medium for
    immediacy, b) staking a claim for small groups c) creating
    content that I hoped would keep people reading the newsgroup
    so they’d be around to see what others were posting and
    even reply when people asked questions and d) I hoped
    by example that others would follow.

    Ask Kate about the time I posted about when some guys
    lived in a window at The Bay in 1999, or about the lineup
    when the first of the more recent Star Wars films came
    out. I had no model, it came naturally. I didn’t have
    to break away from passivity that is so common in old
    media, because I’d grown up with magazines where the
    letter columns were big, and the readers were the writers,

    Kids today, they don’t have to wonder what to do with
    the medium, they are just following others. It’s trendy
    to have a blog, even if you have nothing much to say.

    It was an attempt at a cluster, just like a newspaper
    is a cluster of relatively different things, each of
    which may lure a reader to the other things. Or
    alternately, it gets the information out to a wider
    spread of readers.

    Most of the times in a decade that the ham radio
    fleamarkets have been in the local buy and sell
    newsgroup (and in effect out into the public
    eye since publicity is so lousy) it’s because I’ve
    posted about them. Nobody will enter ham radio if
    they aren’t learning about it in their lives in
    the first place.

    The internet gives everyone their own printing press,
    the same way those hand presses gave Fred Pohl
    and the other SF writers the ability to publish,
    and just like that legendary Gestetner machine gave
    near instant publishing to the counterculture forty
    years ago.

    After that, it really means nothing. You can keep
    a webpage updated without blogging software, or you
    can use blogging software to create a static page.

    Blogging is way too self-referential, which may
    be due to it not being a shared communal/cooperative
    space like a newsgroup, but in essence “my space’,
    where one person writes at the hidden readers, and
    then sometimes they can talk back. Hence it’s
    self-referential because few are talking with
    each other, they are mentioning something they
    read somewhere else and then commenting in their
    own space.

    But that self-reference seems to feed this “let’s
    define it” when a more general viewpoint is completely
    lacking.

    Small groups need communal spaces, because then
    people they don’t already know may learn about them.
    Mailing lists thirty years ago were limited to people
    who were already in the know, though at least back
    then they had the excuse of having no better means.

    Small groups need to keep updated webpages, because
    it may be the only means they have of reaching the
    general public. They need to learn that they can
    be far more verbose than when they can only scrounge
    two lines in the paper. They need to treat the
    webpage as the document of record, instead of
    running to old media every time they have to say
    something (though they still need to do that,
    because they’ve not built up clusters in the past
    decade). They also may need to keep a constant
    feed of information or gossip, so the readers
    keep coming back and then will see any Important
    News.

    It doesn’t matter whether they use blogging software
    or not to do all this. And it’s merely “keeping
    a webpage”, it doesn’t have to be drawn into
    this “blogosphere” that I’d never heard of until
    I started seeing it in the paper. (This onerous
    “Web 2.0” too, only people who came in late would
    think there is anything new happening, and only
    people who came in late would think the internet
    was commercial first.)

    It does matter that they take control, instead
    of letting some guy take care of the webpage.
    Glossy is the enemy of information, because it
    makes things too complicated to update easily.
    But then, all those webpages with High Gloss are
    likely because the owner (or the guy who made
    the page) thinks a webpage is a magazine at
    the newsstand which has to attract the attention
    of the passerby. The reality is nobody passes
    by a webpage, they go there deliberately.

    The revolution is that we own the words, we own
    the space. So anyone trying to get “creditation”
    is missing the point. By the time you get there,
    you aren’t doing anything different. You shouldn’t
    need it to write something, because all those
    small groups should be putting their press releases
    up on their websites anyway. The Gazette is adding
    all those blogs because blogs are getting hyped,
    blogs are hip. Someone writes about their cat,
    and they get nearly a full column length, but
    the fact that I’ve been posting about used
    book sales for a decade means nothing because I’m
    not a “blog”.

    If those small groups can’t be bothered letting loose
    information (and it shouldn’t be conditional on whether
    we need to know or are already joined up or even because
    they want something from us), then let the third parties
    fill the gap.

    All these old media sites are not adding blogs because
    they feel a need for regular updates, they are doing
    it because that’s what you do now. Any time in the past
    decade or more, they could have been slapping up information
    or even gossip (because gossip is a connecting thing), but
    they saw no point. They want it because they want to be
    hip, in the same way that over a decade ago they’d start
    boasting about how “interactive” they were. They were no
    more or less than they’d ever been, they simply made it
    a bigger issue, because they wanted to catch up with
    the internet.

    Drop the whole notion of “blogs”. Then start analyzing what’s
    being said. That’s all that counts. It doesn’t matter what’s
    being used to publish online, it doesn’t matter whether it’s
    personal or public, personal or commercial, updated regularly
    or infrequently, it only matters that someone is saying something
    valuable. The rest falls into place after that.

    Michael

    Reply

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