Thursday, May 04, 2006

The "False Divide" between Journalists and Bloggers

Dorian Benkoil, who's at We Media makes a very astute observation about the all the conversations re the separation between "citizen journalists" and journalists:
It's an artificial divide. Any journalist worth his salt reads the blogs on his beat and those inform the coverage, at least, and are quoted by name if he's honest. And the bloggers repay the favor, giving the journalist more voice by commenting, linking, and taking it further. It's more of a feedback loop than a divide.

Dorian's definitely understands how the blogger/journalist ideal *should* play out. Yet being on the blogger end of this thing, and an observer on how it plays out locally, the interface isn't always ideal. From observing both and The Daily Hampshire Gazette, it appears that there isn't huge interest in involving bloggers outside of these papers in their ventures. Among its bloggers, Masslive has an eclectic mix of citizens and newspaper people keeping blogs, yet the blogs do not take comments and there appears to be little interaction of the Masslive blogs with the greater blogosphere. At the Gazette, everything is behind a wall--reading full articles, and responding to them are only for those who subscribe to the Gazette's print version, or for $1.99 per week for non-print subscribers (this is an interesting revenue-generating model, but does restrict interaction.)

I always wonder if these papers are all that interested in what is going on outside of their own little stable of bloggers--or if there is some need, on the part of the editorial staff, to control what the bloggers are up to. A need to control could end up excluding local bloggers because they cannot be controlled. Are the journalists trying to spin the bloggers a certain way? Perhaps a good question...

Yet Dorian is right about the feedback loop. Within Masslive there are references to articles in some blogs--although I rarely see print articles reference local bloggers. The lack of a commenting feature may hinder this interaction. The Gazette's experiment is still very new (they changed ownership in September), and since it is behind a wall, its interaction loop isn't easy to observe.

Bill Densmore, who heads up the Media Giraffe Project at UMass (and is also giving me a bit of mentoring), was ref'd on Ethan Zuckerman's blog entry about We Media:
Bill observed that local newspaper editors generally understand the value of journalists cooperating with bloggers because local papers don’t get produced without the help of lots of amateurs. That baseball story, town meeting summary or theatre review might have been produced by a seasoned, experienced journalist… and just as likely was produced by an intern, an amateur trying to get some experience, or someone in the community who was passionate that an event get covered.

Maybe these conversations aren’t best [yelled] held between bloggers and journalists from highly professional, structured, hierarchical news organizations - maybe community papers could help provide an ideological bridge between camps?

And Ethan is very, very right! And the desire to form that bridge is what we are trying to accomplish out at the Democracy& Independence: Sharing News and Politics in a Connected World conference at the end of June...a number of Big Media types are planning to be there...and we denizens of the blogosphere, if we really want them to notice what we're doing, have to stop kvetching about Big Media, get off our asses and meet them. Big Media are, unfortunately, in the positions of power and still make decisions that effect us. If we want it to change, it's up to us to get our butts where They will be, stick our hands out, say "Hi, let's talk!" and start the dialogue.

Still, I wonder how much of the perception of the False Divide is totally that of Big Media, or if there are bloggers who like the division and have no desire to bridge the divide. Perhaps, for some, the Divide serves an ego need, or they feel that their role is best when they are free-speech pitbulls rather than as media compadres...

And in that case, the Divide is real, has a purpose, and might never be bridged...

Essentially, it is going to individuals who will bridge the divide--some from local media, some from the blogging community, still others from the dreaded big media. The thing is that if parties on both sides of the "false divide" want to change the perception, they have to meet, become visible to one another, and demonstrate the reality.

Otherwise, the false divide will remain a true divide in the perceptions of many.

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