Monday, June 19, 2006

Blogging vs. Journalism: the Debate Continues

The results of some rather tart words between myself and Stephen Spruiell of the National Review's MediaBlog has been some very interesting correpsondence...and while the correspondence is confidential, (this is the civil thing to do) what's precipitated has been some more thoughts on the differences between journalism and blogging.

Journalism--or the creation of a piece of journalism--is a process. There are editors and levels and a back and front and a whole bunch of other things. With most blogs, it's just the blogger and his/her words. If there's fact-checking, it's usually done by the blogger--like the proofing, editing, style and grammer checking, etc. If the blog has a staff (and some do--such as OhMyNews and it migh have an editorial process. Which means a post might go thru a process similar to that of a piece of journalism (as do citizen pieces at OhMyNews and

Now that ain't what most of us bloggers are up to. Whether or not a jounralistic process happens at Kos, I cannot speak to (and do any of us outside of Kos know?) Whether a process happens with Stephen's blog before he hits the "publish" button (his site sits safely nestled in a publication) I can't speak to either. I'm not sure if anybody at that level or in those debates is being transparent on this part of their blogging process...and perhaps that's what's most frustrating--are these blogs going thru an editorial process and, thus more like journalism than individual blogging? Should these vetted blogs even be called blogs and should the entire blogosphere be lumped into one category--journalism--when not all are created under the same conditions?

Perhaps then all blogs are created equal (in the technical sense--from the same open-source software platforms), but some blogs are more equal (to journalism) than others--if they're the kinds of blogs that go through a journalistic vetting process like an editorial or an article in a publication. Perhaps blogs like Kos should be called Blogs while the rest of us, writing at varying degrees, are simply "blogs".

It makes me think, though, am I--somewhere--doing a form of journalism? Perhaps with Corante, and with articles like this one in OJR, but my blogging is, well, different. First because the blogs were designed to communicate to different audiences without any conscious intention of journalism--the ideas behind the content of each blog became fully developed after they were created. The first more personal blog was definitely meant to communicate more to women--I wanted to tell stories about my life-- while this blog was meant to communicate to a more general audience. It's been very curious watching both of them develop and change over the time I've been doing this. I find that the term "audience," and how I know what kinds of people constitute it, depends on who makes themselves known to me. For all I know, I could have an even distribution of men and women readers for each blog--and men and women could read each blog for very different reasons.

I find that calling them journalism falls short because they were designed for the purpose of communication and have never been edited or vetted by anyone other than myself.

Am I doing journalism here on this blog in particular? Not like I might in other places, and to the varying degrees of judgements by others. I'm throwing out my raw thoughts like I might if I were writing a yet-to-be-published academic paper. Can I call myself a journalist? Maybe a "newbie" journalist because of the type of freelance writing I get paid for--but not for my blogging alone. Maybe I'm more of a blogger turning into a journalist (in spite of herself.) I don't know. Only time will tell.

Additional good reads: Daniel Okrent took a lot of crapola at the New York Times as its Public Editor, but when he left, he passed along a number of great insights about journalism. Some of his points--from the fact that his own column goes thru many reads (and he thanks those who read) to how freelancers are missing something of the newsroom experience--gave me a bit more insight into what makes journalism different from blogging.

Leonard Witt, prof at Kennesaw State University and who blogs at put together Constructing a framework to enable an open source re-invention of journalism. I'm still mulling over a lot of its points. But he does make interesting correlations between how open-source software works and how these notions can be applied to journalism:
von Hippel [26] reminds us that false starts are not just experienced by the open source software world when he writes: “It is striking that most new products developed and introduced to the market by manufacturers are commercial failures.” He argues manufactures which work with what he calls “lead users,” those who modify the product to meet their individual needs, will be better informed than manufacturers who rely solely on internally produced predictions.

This means going beyond the traditional focus groups. Remember Kelly (2005) wrote, “Everything media experts knew about audiences — and they knew a lot — confirmed the focus group belief that audiences would never get off their butts and start making their own entertainment.” However, if they had paid attention to “lead users,” the innovators, they would have, using von Hippel’s arguments, had a better understanding of what was coming in the world of commons–based peer production. Today we know that with their blogs, vlogs, and podcasts there are hosts of “lead users” in the world of citizen produced and modified media. The media industry should be looking to them for leadership as well as to their traditional audiences to increase the chances of successful experimentation.

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