Blogging and Journalism: friends or enemies?

The Fall and Fall of Journalism, a seminar on journalism and blogging at the London School of Economics last night, quickly evolved into a two sided argument contrasting the legitimacy of the former with the activism of the latter. FT Magazine editor John Lloyd ruffled some feathers by suggesting “if blogging is to go mainstream, bloggers will have to sharpen their act up considerably”.

In a wider context he noted a shift in newspapers from analysis and news towards entertainment, arguing that information is better provided elsewhere: “Google can provide more information in a few seconds than one can hope to read in a weekend”.

According Lloyd, blogging has paralleled the huge rise in views driven news. He cited the English Independent’s transformation from a news focused paper to one whose tabloid front page comprises a single message designed for maximum polemical impact. Thus he argues that so far, “blogging has been ideologically rather than technologically driven. And in that respect it is of a piece with wider trends”.

Many of blogging’s big public coups in the US (like Rathergate or the Jeff Gannon/James Guckert affair), have arisen out of ideological ire. He argued that although this can perform considerable public good, but it can’t displace journalism.

Good journalism requires a careful sifting of fact, the discipline of verification, and the building of a viable public narrative. Above all, it takes time and resources: something that’s in short supply for most bloggers. He doesn’t see how bloggers can displace the journalist’s function.

Blogger Suw Chaman believes that blogs are more than fact checking agents, and the impression that blogging is an all-amateur business is wrong. The networks, in which most bloggers conduct work, provide a kind of ongoing informal peer review. Indeed the speed at which inaccuracy can be found out in such networks actually intensifies the pressure on the blogger to get it right first time. Serial unreliability usually leads to rapid falls in readership.

However she went on the argue that the either/or premise of the debate overlooked the growing (and largely un-talked-about) symbiotic relationship between mainstream journalists and the blogs they read. She believed there is an opportunity for bloggers and journalists to work together and circumvent the widespread mistrust and misunderstanding amongst the mainstream media.

One member of the audience voiced concern over the provenance of the websites they encounter on the web. In other words, who is behind any given website and how do you know if can you trust them? This seems to go to the heart of the apparent discomfiture of both mainstream media and academia when confronted with what is still a fringe activity. It may also explain the apparent reluctance of some of the other speakers to go into detail in their arguments, or even why they did not offer one at all!

Professor Robin Mansell quoted the latest research from the Oxford Internet Institute which noted that bloggers are a small minority of individuals online. In the UK there are currently only 168,000 bloggers out of an estimated world population of well over 6 million. She also noted that on the whole, these tend to be wealthier and have higher levels of education.

This points to something that went unmentioned in the debate. That news bloggers are ‘early movers’ in the vanguard of an experiment that will in time go mainstream.

I remember local satirist and commentator Newton Emerson remarking on Slugger well over two years ago that perhaps one day, good blogging will be recognised for what it is, good writing. Clearly this is still some way from recognition in the UK.

The challenge is twofold. For bloggers it will mean making the shift from exposé to exposition. It will need to demonstrate an interactive form of reliable journalism, which rises to the challenge of what Lloyd describes as readers’ newfound “vigorous selection of opinion”.

For its part, the mainstream media cannot remain aloof from a medium that speaks directly to their online readerships and possesses the capacity to expand and multiply them. Blogging has accrued a considerable power to disrupt and destroy big media reputations.

The question is will we see the two sides of this argument meet somewhere in the middle and accommodate each other in convergence? Or, as Leslie Bunder, editor of Journalistic.co.uk, argues, will we witness the rise of powerful independent journalist blogging brands as advertising spending disperses and shifts towards the Internet?

PS: There’s also an account from Leslie Bunder, and watch the Big Blog Company where Jackie takes on John Lloyd directly on the question of who can control/contribute to the greater news narrative.

  • spirit-level

    You’ll never beat the discipline of Journalism.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Errrm… some bloggers ARE journalists.

  • Emily

    The thing about all the “If bloggers want to be taken seriously…” advice is that most of the bloggers who do want this and hope to use their blog as a launching pad for a career in journalism or other media nearly always already possess the sort of talent and self-discipline that they’re being recommended. It is my personal desire, because I am a goal-orientated person, to never be taken seriously about anything, at least when it comes to the blog. I just do it for fun and to chat with friends about things that interest me.

    There’s an arrogance among a lot of people in the major media to assume that we all wish we had their job. I’ve been to j-school and retired in disgust for the profession. If I wanted to be a journalist, I’d be one.

  • peteb

    Mick, IMHO, there is only one challenge, and that is to produce good writing.

    There was a great, objective and honest analysis of this [somewhat self-aggrandizing] debate in the Chicago Tribune recently, blogged here – Shut up with your whining

    Which including the following advice –

    First to ‘Big Media’ – “Shut up with your whining and appreciate the fact that after generations of stagnation, something new has arrived. And like all new things, it’s going to take awhile for it to work itself out.”

    and then to bloggers – “We have barely had the time to grow a real nice navel here in the blogging world, and we’re already gazing at it. Amazing!”

    It ended with the best advice of all, IMHO – “People who are marketing ideology as truth will eventually go the way of the pamphleteers, I suspect. What will be left are the people who market truth as ideology. You want to blog, make that your ideal.”

    Needless to say, no comments appeared after I posted that.. obviously not good enough writing on my part..

    [note to self – Try again.. Fail better]

  • Emily

    Don’t be so hard on yourself, Pete. Just because something is boring doesn’t mean it’s not good.

  • peteb

    Yeah, thanks Emily.. I think..

  • Emily

    Any time, Pete. To quote Elton John, that’s what friends are for.

  • Young Irelander

    Why is it people seek to pit journalism and blogging against one another?I think both serve a purpose.

  • Emily

    I agree, YI. However, I think they often pit themselves against each other, with some bloggers being very critical of “MSM” and certain members of the media returning said criticism in kind.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    YI

    Exactly! They (to me) totally complement one another… we link to their stories, and they make columns out of our blogs.

    Simple really. We’re all parasites.

    (Errrmm… except my column, obviously.)

  • Richard Delevan

    I think that Suw Charman’s point:
    “the either/or premise of the debate overlooked the growing (and largely un-talked-about) symbiotic relationship between mainstream journalists and the blogs they read. She believed there is an opportunity for bloggers and journalists to work together and circumvent the widespread mistrust and misunderstanding amongst the mainstream media.”
    …is well taken and the most overlooked.

    I started out in public relations, then moved to journalism, and now have added blogging. When I was in PR I was amazed at how much better-resourced and paid we were versus the journos. For many of them, we were essential to the job, and not just as gate-keepers. PR was helping provide story ideas, backup information, helping feed the machine. And your power as a PR depended on your rep for reliability – which is why, contrary to the image, effective PR people never lie. Spin, yes. But blatant falsehood destroys your reputation.

    As a journo, I now think bloggers are evolving into a similar function, as the support network/fact checking (two sides of the same coin) journalistic ecosystem. It’s also one not in the interest of journos to write or talk about much.

    Whether this is a transition phase or one that helps (as many blog-evangelists prophesy) destroy the MSM and turn us all into bloggers (how more than .01% get paid doing this has yet to be explained to me), remains to be seen.

  • aquifer

    “Good journalism requires a careful sifting of fact, the discipline of verification, and the building of a viable public narrative.”

    Secret conspiracies and loudmouths have the advantage then.

    Small wonder the old media have left us with SFPIRA and the DUP.