Is Blogging Journalism? (Rounds 1 through 4)

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In the foreground, Tom Regan of the Christian Science Monitor, the turned head of an attendee we don’t know, , and Gordon Joseloff of WestportNow.com and formerly of CBS News and UPI. That’s me near the clock, commenting to the What is Journalism? session at BloggerCon II. Photo courtesy of Werner Vogels (click to enlarge it.)

Is blogging is journalism? What are the differences? If you want to know, don’t invite speakers from either side. Instead, invite speakers who each are are both bloggers and journalists. They’ll know the answers.

Round 1: Last Spring, JupiterMedia’s ClickZ held a Weblog Business Strategies conference, which was attended by some 100 people, including software pioneers such as Dave Winer, Anil Dash, Dan Bricklin, Doc Searls, Bob Frankston, and David Weinberger, and by journalists such as Jeff Jarvis, Rafat Ali, Elizabeth Spiers, Jimmy Guterman, Rick Bruner, Christopher Lydon, Rebecca Lieb, and Tony Perkins. It had a focused agenda. I was lucky enough in it to speak, along with Jarvis, Ali, and Spiers, on its panel about Weblogs: New Syndication Models Or Uncontrolled Platforms? We concluded that well-written blogging can be journalism. Spiers’ work for Gawker.com and Ali’s for PaidContent.org were excellent examples. Jarvis cited tests of blogging he planned for his company’s newspapers. And I cited examples such Dan Gillmor, Andrew Sullivan, and the Guardian‘s blog. The question of whether or not blogging was journalism was already understood and answered. In many cases, the answer was yes.

Round 2: Last month, I intentionally missed Mediamorphosis, a symposium held by the American Press Institute, a news industry think that’s trying ten years too late to rebrand itself as a center of new-media thinking for news. This symposium was well-intentioned, but I missed it for six reasons:

  • Mediamorphosis’ agenda and schedule were woefully unfocused. The last thing the news industry needed was another executive retreat to think about the challenge of new-media. Most of the news industry has been blindly retreating from that subject for more than a decade. If news industry executive don’t already know what to do, then they shouldn’t be in their jobs.
  • Once involved in this unfocused agenda, the participants were encouraged to shape their own discussions. Though is possible for a hand-picked team of experts to shape an excellent discussion on their own, unfortunately Mediamorphosis’ attendence was based upon who responded to mass mailing (and mass e-mailing) that the API sent to any news industry executives who were involved in new-media. Although that did hook a few experts, it was an ironically unfocused, mass-media way to choose new-media experts and its outcome was somewhat randomized: the majority of the attendees weren’t exactly news new-media experts, despite lots of executive titles.
  • The API hired CNN broadcast personality Jeff Greenfield, who knows little or nothing about new-media, to moderate the start of Mediamorphosis. That was clearly a bad sign: the clueless moderating a group that wasn’t entirely composed of experts.
  • In exchange for contributing their thoughts during Mediamorphosis, each attendee was asked to to pay the API some $1,800 (plus pay his own costs of traveling and staying at the site, the Four Season Hotel in Newport Beach, California). The API promised that the diet of ideas would be rich, but was a bring-and-cook-your-own-food buffet. No, thanks! I’ll pay to listen to experts, but I will no longer pay to speak as one.
  • Prior to receiving the invitation to pay some $1,800 to attend Mediamorphosis, I received an invitation for my company to rent a 6×3-foot exhibit table at the two-day event for $30,000 (yes, you read the size and price correctly). That just made the whole thing laughable.
    [I wasn’t alone with these reactions. A journalism professor I later met felt the same way about Mediamorphosis’s agenda, schedule, composition, moderation, and costs — even though he wasn’t asked to rent an exhibit table costing $833 per square foot per day — and so he skipped it, too.] The results of Mediamorphosis were as I [and that professor] anticipated: Its discussions derailed. Attendees squabbled about questions that Leah Gentry of the Finberg-Gentry Digital Futurist consultancy aptly noted were ten years out of date. But the biggest squabble at Mediamorphis was about whether blogging journalism. The bloggers said it was, the journalism (with the few exceptions being those journalists who actually practice it) said it wasn’t. That’s what happens when
    (For examples of the breakdown of Mediamorphosis’ discussion, read the symposium’s own blog entires for its last day, March 12th, particularly those by Jim Kennedy of the Associated Press, Bill Gannon of Yahoo!, Marta Buscaglia of the Duluth News Tribune, Mary Hodder of UC/Berkeley, among others.)

    Round 3: A panel of academics at the University of Texas’ annual Online Journalism Symposium on Saturday concluded that blogging raises new questions about the nature of journalism and the role of the journalist. Temple University Doctoral Student Sue Robinson said blogs “daily news in the mainstream online press” and called them ‘postmodern reporting where information does not state its origins as clearly as mainstream media.’ Eric Wiltse, a senior lecturer at the University of Wyoming, recommended that blogs should be accepted only as equivalent to editorial pages are in newspapers. University of Texas graduate student Lou Rutigliano said blogs have a symbiotic relationship with mainstream news and depend on that to survive and Doctoral Student J. Richard Stephens said blogs have no desire for objectivity or balance and that an ethics code should be created for them.

    Round 4: Saturday coincidentally was an big day for blogging, the date of the annual BloggerCon conference, held at Harvard University’s School of Law. Unlike Mediamorphosis, its admission was free, a far more amenable rate for bloggers. Some 200 bloggers showed up, including blogger/journalists Rebecca McKinnon, Bob Stepno, Jeff Jarvis, Dan Gillmor, Scott Brodeur, Tom Regan, Chris Lydon, Jason McCabe Calacanis, Gordon Joseloff, Rex Hammock, and Rick Bruner. Others, such a Rafat Ali, remotely attended through IRC. Much of their focuse was New York University School of Journalism Professor Jay Rosen‘s session on What is Journalism? (an ironic turnaround on journalism conference panels that wonder what is blogging). As Jarvis’ notes detail, having a room chocked full of people who are each journalists and bloggers was boon for this topic. I think Jack Hodgson of the TECHpopuli blog put it well:

      My reactions and takeaways: What I got from this session is that bloggers used to be loners working without restraint, and pro journalists used to be part of a collaborative, restrictive system. And each is moving toward the other.

      Some bloggers are embracing a more structured form, and old-school journalists are experimenting with the freedom and directness of blogging.

    Nico McDonald, who didn’t attend but monitored the many BloggerCon blogs, wrote a good overview in The Register.

    But ultimately broadcaster Christopher Lydon put it best: He noted the example of “I.F. Stone, the only certifiable genius journalist that I’ve met — and believe me journalism is not a genius field. Stone was a blogger without a blog.” Acknowledged in America as the consummate journalist, Stone worked alone, publishing his own printed newsletter between 1953 and 1971, much the way that bloggers today publish alone.

    Stone died in 1989, but the best journalism of the best blogging lives on.

  • 4 thoughts on “Is Blogging Journalism? (Rounds 1 through 4)

    1. Brain Food for BloggerCon: Journalism and Weblogging in Their Corrected Fullness

      Here’s my Introduction, take two, for the Saturday morning session at BloggerCon. Let’s start by separating two things. Blogging is not journalism. But if each imagined itself as the other, some good might come of that.

    2. An excellent overview of blogging

      An excellent overview of blogging and its importance today…. THE TEN MOST IMPORTANT IDEAS OF 2004: BLOGS AND THE INTERNET. 1. The Blog is a Journal, and Online Journalism is Our Game: ‘Journal’ is a very inclusive term, and broadly…

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