I’ve been writing a science blog called Not Exactly Rocket Science for 5 years. I’ve also been freelancing for magazines and newspapers for most of that time. I have variously called myself a science blogger, a science writer and a science journalist, and I know people who would disagree with the last of those. In five years, I have seen this “debate” about bloggers and journalists rear its head again and again. Do bloggers “count” as journalists? Are blogs journalism? And I’ve come to realise that this debate is exactly like the film Titanic: it is tedious, it goes on forever, everyone’s a caricature and they’re stuck on a massive sinking ship…
…Here, I find it helpful to think of modern journalism in terms of mental disorders. The field of mental health is moving away from sharply defined diagnoses to spectrums of behaviours. In a similar way, there is a spectrum of journalistic values, norms and techniques, which are present to different extents in different people or even individual pieces of work.
I know I fall somewhere on that spectrum. Am I a journalist? Honestly, I care less about the answer than I once did. I am not being blase – I care very deeply about journalism, but there are few things more boring than journalists arguing over what counts as journalism. We live in a world full of stories, about amazing people doing amazing things and terrible people doing terrible things. I will use every medium I can to tell those stories. I will try to tell them accurately so people aren’t misled. I will try to tell them well so people will listen. If people want to argue about what to call that, that’s fine for them.
I would rather just do it.
I don’t think Tumblr is a journalistic platform. It’s perfect for blogging on the arts and being tightly-knit with the community, or introducing new songs from The Beastie Boys.
I think it comes back to the dissolution of the barrier to entry into any particular field or subject matter verticals. Once upon a time you had to pitch editors, send in clips and hop through hoops to get your story out there. Now, anyone can go to a Blogger or WordPress or Tumblr and take the 35 seconds or so it take to set up an account to start publishing.
Does that negate the need for traditional publishers? Not at all. But it adds legions of very smart people with very interesting things to say about all sorts of matters that otherwise would never have been heard.
It also adds legions of very unintelligent people with very uninteresting things to say about all sorts of matters but that’s a different point.
The best bloggers are those that are passionate and deeply knowledgeable about a given, discrete subject. These are people who write about things, investigate things and share there expertise about things.
If you take current events, you’ll find experts in Middle East and North African politics that can help us understand what’s happening in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere right now, experts in nuclear energy and nuclear reactors who can help us understand Japan right now, and the list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, “bloggers” are still stereotyped as the unwashed masses of online media. I think instead they should be thought of as the early warning systems of what’s happening around the world, and this is a system that traditional journalists need to learn to tap into and listen to. I’ve written about that here in reaction to a lecture Rachel Sterne gave on citizen journalism to a class I teach at Columbia:
Bloggers and others who are conversing on social networks about subjects we care about are, after all, nothing more than our communities writ large. It is the role of the journalist to listen to, understand, and learn from the community, and take his or her reporting from there. — Michael
Note: This is an answer to a question from an email interview I gave for an article on Benzinga (registration required). I’ll be posting other answers from the interview in the upcoming days.
Traditional blog platforms are chiefly designed to do one thing—write a blog post, give it a title, add photos, multimedia, tags, etc., and then publish - and while they do it very well, it often means there’s a big barrier between thought and publication. The original idea behind Tumblr is drastically reduce that friction — you can just post a photo, if that’s all you want, or a video, or a snippet of text, etc.
Mark Coatney, Director/Media Evangelist, Tumblr.
Laura Hlebasko, Benzinga, Whither Journalism? The Present and Future State of the News.
FJP: Case in point.
The Guardian’s Matt Wells recently reported that live blogging accounts for 9% of the site’s total unique users. Whether the subject is sports, a speech or what’s happening on the ground in Libya, readers can’t get enough of up to the minute reporting on what’s happening right now.
Wells is generally a fan:
[Live blogs] provide a useful way of telling stories characterised by incremental developments and multiple layers. They are open about the limitations of journalism and draw in the expertise of the audience – and even take input from journalists on rival publications.
On fast-moving stories, live blogs give the ability to post significant developments quickly – more quickly than editing and re-editing a news article. They also allow us to link out to other coverage, to include comments from Twitter and Facebook, to display multimedia (pictures, video and audio), and to include our audience in the comments below the line – all in one place.
What about the cons?
Over on Editors Web Log Meghan Hartsell writes, “With a constant live feed, readers can get lost in the story.” With a series of bulleted facts and one liners, context and analysis are lost.
We might have instant access to the who, what, where and when, but we lose out on the ever important why.
Or, as John Graydon Symes colorfully explains the live blog:
There is no structure and therefore no sense, and the effect is of being in the middle of a room full of loud, shouty and excitable people all yelling at once with all the phones ringing, the fire alarm going off and a drunken old boy slurring in your ear about “what it all means.” It really is a bizarre way to run a media circus.
What thinks you? What place does the live blog have?
Most definitely yes, a blogger can be a journalist and a journalist can be a blogger. It’s all a matter of style.
That’s my short answer. For a long answer I’m going to refer you to NYU’s Jay Rosen who give a talk on exactly this topic at SXSW.
Six years ago I wrote an essay called Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over. It was my most well read piece at the time. And it made the points you would expect: This distinction is eroding. This war is absurd. Get over it. Move on. There’s bigger work to be done.
But since then I’ve noticed that while the division–-bloggers as one type, journalists as another–-makes less and less sense, the conflict continues to surface. Why? Well, something must be happening under the surface that expresses itself through bloggers vs. journalists. But what is that subterranean thing? This is my real subject today.
Here’s the audio from his talk.
And here’s an article from the Guardian about the talk.
Hope this helps. We look forward to hearing from you again. — Michael
…in early February, the Senegalese-American immigrant — and his green card 9 years in the making — returned to Senegal to make some changes at Seneweb.com, his website and, in many ways, the unofficial homepage of the nation.
If you’re Senegalese or have ever traveled to the West African nation, you’ve likely come across this site. A buzzing, sensational aggregator of the former French colony’s news, it feels and looks like the Huffington Post of Senegal — except with far less in the way of competition. Deeply influential in Senegalese media and politics, it’s where obscure reports of government waywardness go viral. On a happening day, the site fetches 200,000 unique visits and 1.3 million hits — astounding numbers in a nation of 13 million, less than a million of whom can even get online.