A Blog Around The Clock

One of the (many) motivations for writing the epic post about New Journalism last week was to try to end once for all the entire genre of discussing the “bloggers vs. journalists” trope.

I have collected the responses to the piece here and it is quite flattering that the post got hat-tips from people who have studied the topic for a long time, like Ed Cone, Kirk Ross, Michael Tobis, Henry Gee, Dave Winer and Dan Conover, among others.

My SciBling Dave Dobbs wrote a very good post (recommended) in reply – you need to go and read it.

One of Dave’s questions was, to paraphrase, why are there still stories that bloggers ignore?

Short answer – blogging is young and there are not enough bloggers out there with interest and expertise in every topic imaginable. His example of PTSD, while superficially interesting to me, was not exciting enough, or “up my alley” enough, or “within my realm of expertise” enough, for me to do any digging or blogging of my own.

Perhaps at this time in history, there was just not sufficient number of bloggers who know much and care about this topic. But in 10 years or 20 years, when journalism online, including citizen journalism online, becomes a norm, when instead of 1% of people of the world making content online, it is 50% or 80%, then yes, every topic will have sufficient numbers of people with interest and expertise in it to make a splash.

But something in Dave’s post prompted both Jay Rosen and myself to post comments there – the false dichotomy between ‘journalists’ and ‘bloggers’ snuck into Dave’s post. This is, roughly (somewhat expanded and edited from there) what I wrote:

———

This is an excellent response. I want to follow up on what Jay above wrote about ‘Replacenicks’, i.e., people who warn about the impending doom of ‘newspapers being replaced by blogs’.

This is the matter of framing. I know science bloggers are allergic to the F word, but if you could just for a moment forget Matt Nisbet and his erroneous and dangerous use of the term, and remember Lakoff’s (in ‘Moral Politics’ book) understanding of the phenomenon, as in “eliciting a particular frame of mind in the audience’, then you can try to understand what I am getting at here.

When you say “newspapers will (or will not) be replaced by blogs”, you invoke two demonstrably erroneous frames in readers’ minds:

a) that “newspapers = journalism”, and
b) that “blogs = inane chatter”.

Journalism is medium-neutral. Not just in newspapers. Journalism can and does happen on paper, over radio waves, on TV and online. A lot of other stuff also has its place on all those communication channels as well.

The phrase also elicits the ‘opposition’ frame of mind – there are two terms and they are presented as mutually exclusive and opposite from each other. In other words, journalism is presented as exact opposite and fierce competitor of blogs and vice versa.

This ‘opposition’ frame, by defining newspapers as equating journalism, then leaves only the non-journalistic stuff to the term “blogs”. Thus, the word “blog” in the phrase automatically reminds people of inane navel-gazing, teenage angst, copy-and-paste news and LOLcats found on so many blogs.

But, remember that a blog is software, not a style. Thus the first thought upon hearing the word “blog” in the context of journalism should be TPM, HuffPo, Firedoglake, etc., not Cute Overload.

Guess who planted that framing? The journalistic curmudgeons like Keen, Henry, Mulshine at al, in their endless Luddite op-eds railing against the internet.

So, we need to quit using that ridiculous phrase ‘newspapers being replaced by blogs’ and try to engender much more meaningful discussions by using an alternative framing, e.g., something along the lines of “most paper will be replaced by Web”. Journalism will continue to happen, but it will be less and less on paper and more and more online.

It is not a fight between journalism and blogging, but a technological revolution in which journalism is moving from print to Web.

Switching to a new medium will inevitably change the way journalism is done in many ways – the questions and problems of speed/timeliness, the pre-publication vs. post-publication filters, the echo-chamber formation, the ethics, the privacy concerns, the question of expertise, the he-said-she-said format, the linking to sources and documentation, the multi-media approach, the length constraints of articles, the (in)formality of language, etc. All of those will have to be assessed and experimented with until we settle into a new way of doing journalism right.

The journalistic workflow, i.e., the day-to-day methodology of doing journalism, will inevitably have to change with the new times and the new medium.

Of course, much of the noise on this topic comes from the job uncertainty of today’s journalism – the change in the medium is a real threat to jobs and livelihoods of journalists, as internet requires a smaller total number of paid professionals than newspapers do, thus so much talk about ‘business models’. This is the part that, frankly, interests me the least as I am not personally affected, while I am excited about being the witness of a technological revolution and student of the way this revolution will alter the society.

Comments

  1. #1 David Dobbs
    April 5, 2009

    Hi Bora,

    You’re making a valid overall point here (tho I’ve some quibbles with some details) — but in getting to it, you make a couple of errors I’d like to correct. I’d argue that (as per your own title), you rather ‘badly frame” my own post in using it as a take-off point for yours.

    1. Minor, but worth a mention: You say I wrote my post on “Blogosphere, MSM, and PTSD” “in reply” to your long post about defining terms. Though my post alluded to your post, I did not write it in reply to yours, as I had not read your post when I wrote mine. This is not a huge deal, but it might confuse people if they read my post seeing it as a response to yours when in fact it was an elaboration on points I’d discussed in my talk at NYU.

    2. More substantially, while you’re making a valid point about ‘newspaper v blogosphere’ framing, I think you’ve misread and thus (inadvertently) mispresented my own post in using it as a seemingly classic example of such framing. You write (of my post):

    When you say “newspapers will (or will not) be replaced by blogs”, you invoke two demonstrably erroneous frames in readers’ minds:

    a) that “newspapers = journalism”, and
    b) that “blogs = inane chatter”.

    That statement, by itself, is essentially accurate. But it has a problem when applied to my post: I wasn’t discussing newspapers being replaced by blogs. I was discussing rather a different thing, which is the prospect of long-form “slowbake” (that is, a long time in the making) print pieces being replaced by blogs or online venues. That’s a sub-domain of its own that presents deeper challenges than the broader domain of newspapers, and I called it out precisely because I think that it may prove of the hardest things to replace with online work. (True, I did use the terms ‘blogosphere’ and “MSM,” which might be mistaken for ‘newspapers v blogging.” But while I’d admit some slop in the blogo-term, I was pretty clear that I was raising concerns about one particular type of print/MSM story, the long magazine piece.)

    I fervently hope that the emerging online journalism world will find a way to fund such pieces, just as it’s beginning to find ways to fund good shorter-form, shorter-cycle reporting. But the task of funding longer, deeply reported pieces seems tougher to me, and one that — aside from a recognition of the need for investigative reporting (which is a different animal from the sort of piece I’m talking about) — I’ve not seem much progress toward or discussion of.

    Thus my post.

    As to your larger point, I agree with much of it — but I’d argue that in discussing print v online media we can’t ignore the economic models underpinning each. The difference in the economic models poses a threat not just to many journalists’ jobs but to some of support of long, deep, ruminative reporting. I’m not saying online media can’t possibly fund such reporting and such stories. We may find a way. But we won’t find a way if we don’t recognize the need to do so, and we don’t recognize the need to do so if we overlook or minimize the value of such reporting or of the longer, slower, ultimately expensive creation process involved.

    Yours, Dave

  2. #2 Jim Buie
    April 5, 2009

    Bora, I want to congratulate you on your opus about new journalism — there’s much to think about in what you’ve written.

    I don’t agree with you that the uncertainty over business models and paid professionals vs. volunteers does not affect you and everybody. There has to be a responsible distribution of income that new media generates. Why should Arianna Huffington make millions and not pay her bloggers one red cent? She may be able to say that a business model hasn’t emerged for her yet to be able to pay writers, but if it does emerge, is she not obliged to pay them?

    Why should Google make gazillions off the content of others, and pay out only a fraction of what Google makes to the actual content creators?

    How can we conscientiously encourage communicators to work at the craft of writing, to become professional writers, if there are few ways for them to make a decent living or sustain themselves or even to pay back their student loans while working at that craft?

    I hope that business models or non-profit foundations will emerge to sustain professional journalism. If they don’t emerge, I believe we will all be impoverished — intellectually and culturally if not economically.

  3. #3 Coturnix
    April 5, 2009

    Oh, it is certainly important, it’s just not the angle I personally find most interesting or as fascinating as watching as the forms and the mores and the methods change.

  4. #4 llewelly
    April 5, 2009

    But Mr. Clock, if traditional journalism could be done on a blog, blogs wouldn’t be the Great Satan and then who would newspaper execs blame after they all lost their jobs?

  5. #5 Robert Grumbine
    April 6, 2009

    Certainly the real question is journalism via blogs and (not versus) journalism via paper or broadcast.

    The PTSD example, however, strikes me as a weak one. As he observes, the blogosphere ignored it every bit as much as MSM. Conversely, blogosphere did no worse than MSM. At least up to the time that he successfully took it to MSM (and, obviously, he could have taken it to blogosphere as well or instead). The point of strength to the example is that without an income, the story would still be unwritten.

    On the other, and much larger, hand, the number and variety of science stories which are ignored by MSM is enormous — far more so than by the blogosphere. That matter of income is, I think, part of the reason why. On the MSM side, if the (nonscientist) editor making story decisions doesn’t see the audience for (if it bleeds, it leads), then the income is directed elsewhere. Most often to the same stories that everyone else in MSM is covering, for the same reasons.

    On the blogosphere side, many of the science bloggers are themselves scientists. Their income is covered by their day job doing science. They can then fairly easily (since they’re already familiar with the field) write in an evening or two and article that would take a journalist weeks, and without concern for either where his next meal will come from, nor whether an editor will think it profitable to run the article.

    A touchstone I use for what an informed non-professional thinks is my wife. (We’re more or less newlyweds). She reads the paper daily, and is particularly interested in the science. She’s routinely seeing for the first time ‘today’ things that I knew about 5, 10, 20 years ago. And they’re being presented in MSM as if they were new (of course). If I worked on, say, finding interstellar molecules, that would make some sense. But I work in or near climate. You’d think there’d been rather a lot of coverage on climate in the last 20 years. Perhaps there has. But coverage, evidently, is not nearly the same as informing the audience.

  6. #6 David Dobbs
    April 6, 2009

    Bora,

    Forgive this v short answer but the long one I posted didn’t show, much to my chagrin.

    Your make a good basic point about framing. However, I’d like to point out two errors in your post:

    1. My post about MSM, blogs, PTSD, etc was NOT written “in reply” to your epic post, for I had not read your epic post before writing my post. No big deal, but readers might be confused if they go to my post looking for a response to yours.

    2. You make a good point about framing effect of the “can blogs replace newspapers” question, but you err in citing my post as an example of that meme. I was not addressing whether blogs could replace newspapers. I was addressing whether the online venue could support the sort of long, slow work and research and rumination that is necessary to write long magazine articles. That’s a different matter.

    And I did not and don’t argue that such support is impossible. We may find a way. But we won’t find a way to support that long, slow, and expensive process if we don’t recognize its particular advantages, and at this point I don’t think the debate is recognizing those advantages.

    As to the “business model” — you may not think it important, but it IS important if people are to have the time to do this sort of work. Note this is NOT the “investigative journalism” that new efforts are (wisely) trying to find and fund online venues for. This is something a bit different. And the sort of process I describe as crucial in the PTSD story requires time and travel, and that requires money.

  7. #7 Pascal Lapointe
    April 6, 2009

    the ‘opposition’ frame of mind – there are two terms and they are presented as mutually exclusive and opposite from each other. In other words, journalism is presented as exact opposite and fierce competitor of blogs and vice versa.

    This is less and less true in journalism. Sure, there will always be dinosaurus, and some of them have, unfortunately, op-ed with large audiences, but this kind of opposition is more frequently heard by bloggers.

    It is not a fight between journalism and blogging, but a technological revolution in which journalism is moving from print to Web.

    Not only technological. It is also a change in the power audience have more and more, change that could create two solitudes between niche media and the “mainstream media”, as I wrote in more details here.

  8. #8 Free photos
    April 6, 2009

    They can then fairly easily (since they’re already familiar with the field) write in an evening or two and article that would take a journalist weeks, and without concern for either where his next meal will come from, nor whether an editor will think it profitable to run the article.

  9. #9 gillt
    April 7, 2009

    Perhaps this was already addressed, but if journalism moves to the intertubes, from where will objectivity take form? At the New Yorker, for instance, there is an army of paid fact-checkers and copy-editors that is demonstrably superior to the free-for-all wiki approach to accuracy and blog-based journalism. Editors, the gate-keepers of content, we can perhaps do without, but not fact-checkers.

  10. #10 Coturnix
    April 7, 2009

    Yes, this was addressed. Post-publication vs. pre-publication fact-checking. Your commenters will serve your ass on a platter if you make a typo, not to mention factual errors. MSM fact-chekers have been proven demonstrably poor at their jobs over and over again – by whom? By millions of experts who we, today, call bloggers.

    And as for the word “demonstrably”, it is a demonstrably better system, as it was demonstrated that Wikipedia is at least equal and perhaps better than Encyclopedia Brittanica (and the reason why Encerta is dead as of this week).

  11. #11 gillt
    April 7, 2009

    You can’t be serious that there are fewer typos on a news blog (rawstory, for instance) than in your standard newspaper.

    Post-publication fact-checking is inferior to pre-publication for the simple reason that more readers will be exposed to inaccurate information the first time around. It’s just transferring the burden of accuracy to your readership. Why publish the equivalent of a rough-draft, which is essentially what you’re doing in a post, before the supposed millions of commenters reading your blog correct it for you?

    Encarta’s no longer because it can’t compete with something free and more topical, not because it was less accurate.

  12. #12 Coturnix
    April 7, 2009

    Did you read the post that this is a follow-up to?

    There is not time any more for pre-publication review. Period. Get used to it.

    Second, unlike the Corrections on page C13 in a paper a week later which nobody sees, online the corrections are right there on the article itself forever attached to the paper. No confusion can exist, nobody will ever cite, quote or link that article again without the knowledge that corrections exist.

    Third, Encarta died because it was not as good as Wikipedia.

    Fourth, there is no way in hell that a handfull of fact-checkers in the newsroom can catch every error. But millions of readers, many of whom are real experts on the topic, will immediately detect the errors and correct them.

  13. #13 gillt
    April 7, 2009

    Enough already with wiki. I’m not talking about denotations and connotations of words or concepts. That is small beer. That is wiki. I’m concerned with objective journalism.

    Millions of fact checkers doing it for free have neither the resources nor inclination to check the accuracy of every quote and observation in an article. Besides, your herd-of-readers argument only works if the information being checked is available online. This may come as a surprise, but things still can’t be googled.

    Isn’t it obvious that most of what needs fact-checked in an article will go unnoticed by your legions because it belongs to the mundane and noncontroversial? (evidence by reading the Corrections on pg C13!) That’s why we have to pay fact-checkers for their services. What they miss will be nothing compared to what these weekend warrior fact-checkers will let slip by. At least, that’s my prediction.

    Search “John McPhee” and “Checkpoints” and get back to me.

  14. #14 gillt
    April 7, 2009

    I’m basically making the same point Pascal Lapointe made in the comment section of your original post. Speed is overrated; readers prefer accuracy. The central delusion here is in believing it’s cheap and easy to come by.

  15. #15 Pascal Lapointe
    April 7, 2009

    Perhaps more important, it is a little bit utopic to believe that because there are thousands of readers, all mistakes will be corrected. A majority of readers don’t comment, ever. Those who do comment, have rarely as much time on their hands than the blogger, and so, they will either choose what they want to answer, and what facts they have the time to verify.

    That being said, it is true that, in an universe of niche media (specialized media), the ratio of specialized readers who are doing specialized comments would be higher.

  16. #16 Coturnix
    April 7, 2009

    It does not work that way. It is not that thousands of blank slates read your piece and a few may decide to dig online resources to fact-check you. No, out of those thousands, several will be experts – they will have the correct information at their fingertips, relevant links ready in their bookmarks, and they will feel highly motivated to correct your mistakes right there and then. I read many posts per day, but only comment when I know what I am talking about, confident in my information, having the relevant links ready and, in essence, pulling my weight as an expert on the topic. Just try saying something wrong about circadian rhythms! Or how PLoS ONE peer-review system really works.

  17. #17 Pascal Lapointe
    April 7, 2009

    In theory, you are right, but that’s assuming that all the relevant experts are reading the relevant pieces, and that all those relevant experts can find at their fingertips the exact information, and that all those who can will take the time to do it.

    Many times, we think that something is wrong when reading a blog, but we don’t have the time to search the original source, or we do not feel it is important enough, or we think that somebody else will do it, and one hour later, tens of other posts are requiring our attention.

    It is highly plausible that this theory will work much better with very specialized media or very specialized audiences —like the ones who come to read some particular articles in PLOS One, and who have far more interest to read them with a high level of attention.

  18. #18 Coturnix
    April 7, 2009

    Let me quote myself, from this very post:

    “But in 10 years or 20 years, when journalism online, including citizen journalism online, becomes a norm, when instead of 1% of people of the world making content online, it is 50% or 80%, then yes, every topic will have sufficient numbers of people with interest and expertise in it to make a splash.”

    Applies to commenting as well. And, as the stuff on paper dies, the migration of people online will speed up.

  19. #19 Stephanie Z
    April 8, 2009

    As an editor (copy, style, some fact-checking and content direction) to bloggers, I have to say it’s simply not true that these services aren’t available online. There isn’t much demand for them per se, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t people with these talents reading and invested in blogs. Right now, these folks are sitting on their hands as they read, mumbling, “Will not be a grammar troll. Will not point out typos unasked. Is it rude to say this link is borked?”

    Very few of them are working with content creators at the moment because the relationship is not well-defined. Editor/author relationships online are not the same kind of top-down relationships they are at a newspaper or magazine. It takes some trust to say, “Hi. I love your stuff. I think I can help you make it better,” and to accept that help.

    So, just as content creation is changing by moving online, so will editing. I can’t tell you what it will end up looking like (collaborative, supportive, iterative, generally available to the better creators, with final approval going along with the byline), but I do know a couple of bloggers with some experience being edited who can tell you what they think of the idea.

  20. #20 gillt
    April 8, 2009

    That’s interesting S.Z., but your idea seems more like what already exists in newsprint just moved online, not Coturnix’s populist ideal. As online journalism becomes mainstream some sort of profit-making business model will shape the enterprise, spurring job creation. The internet is only a wildwest because it hasn’t been settled.

  21. #21 Pascal Lapointe
    April 8, 2009

    Bora was saying: Let me quote myself, from this very post:
    “But in 10 years or 20 years, when journalism online, including citizen journalism online, becomes a norm, when instead of 1% of people of the world making content online, it is 50% or 80%, then yes, every topic will have sufficient numbers of people with interest and expertise in it to make a splash.”
    Applies to commenting as well. And, as the stuff on paper dies, the migration of people online will speed up.

    I don’t see the contradiction between your quote and what I’m saying. 1% or 50% or 80% people on the web doesn’t change the fact there is 24 hours in a day, and that very specialized subjects will have, in our society, more or less the same amount of very specialized experts.

    Of course with 80% people around, very specialized articles like those in PLOS One will receive more visits and will have more peer-review. The practice of science will be better served. But the vast majority of people, who were only reading or listening science news because there were some science news in their local TV or newspaper, will not come on PLOS One, and only a tiny fraction will come on science blogs.

    This is the two solitudes I am talking to in the other post: sure, 80% of people around (and making content, assuming this percentage is plausible), will mean that scientists and science aficionados will have more science news they could only dream of, and some of them could even be willing to pay for some of those news. But the vast majority of people will only have what their newspaper-on-the-web will be willing to give them.

    While we’re at it, we should also ask which part of those science news will be done by professionals-paid for it. Maybe a lot of those professionals (journalists or bloggers-turned journalists, no difference) will be more interested to write full-time for specialized audiences (maybe it will be better paid, too). Who knows. But the fact of the matter is that, at this present point of history, we can not assume that 80% of people around will mean that science journalism will be replaced by something better for all those non-specialists and non-aficionados.

    This is also why this debate should not be a “blogger vs. journalist” debate anymore. All of us have a deep interest to see beyond it.

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