How I learned to stop worrying and love the blog

That might not be the first (or last) time I use that title, but it seems appropriate enough for the always entertaining discussion that ensues when journalists say things like

“Any blog entry counts as journalism if the person posting it says it is, but journalism written by professionals cannot lose its special qualities and become just another blog posting, whatever we may wish.”

That was Bill Thompson writing in the Guardian.

Thompson is a journalist, a blogger, and (sigh) teaches online journalism at a London j-school.

He makes the case that professional journalists are always on the job, whether they like it or not, and thus, the public expects more out of them, so they should be prepared for the onslaught of fact-checking, name-calling, and misunderstandings that come with turning comments on in the blogosphere.

Special qualities?

I call them rules, or standards, or guidelines of journalism — but they’re nothing special. In fact, they’ve got nothing to do with me. A professional journalist can also write a novel, or fiction, or poetry, so what’s to keep a journalist from keeping a personal blog that touches on topics other than their area of authority section of the newspaper?

Say it with me now: Blogs are just a medium.

I get the impression that journalists come at blogs with the attitude that they’re all out there, disseminating information and covering the news without playing by the rules.

Covering the news?

Well sure, some hyperlocal bloggers might report hyperlocal news, and the tech/gadget blogs do plenty of reporting (often far better/faster/ahead-of-the-curve than print publications), but the other gazillion folks out here are just offering up analysis and opinion, as as well as first person experience, poetry, fiction, images, sound, video, and pictures of their cats.

It’s a common misconception that the reading of blogs is replacing the reading of newspapers. I read newspaper stories online. I open Google News every morning, scan the headlines, including some custom sections on things that interest me but don’t bubble up to the front pages. I click on a few stories, opening them up in tabs. Then I read the news.

Then I open up NewsGator, and scan the headlines of recent blog posts from a few categories, depending on how much time I have.

I read some posts, clicking through to open up anything I want to read the comments on, or comment on myself, or if I see something I think I might want to mention in a blog post of my own.

Quite often, blog posts will lead me to more news stories, and I’ll read those, too. If I’m really interested in something, I might go back to a blog search engine and see who is commenting on the news story I just read.

So there I am, a blogger, reading news stories and blog posts and then linking to both of them in my own blog.

Am I reporting the news? No, I’m just pointing at it, and adding my own commentary or analysis based on my experience, my point of view, or other reading I’m doing. A good blog post might even synthesize information and opinions from a few places, pointing out the best ideas in the mix.

When I’m doing journalism, I’m doing journalism. When I’m analyzing, synthesizing, or opining, that’s what I’m doing. In this particular personal unmediated medium called blogging, you can usually tell the difference.

Will I keep blogging about the newspaper industry after someone starts paying me to work in it? Sure. Plenty of people do, and no one expects them to do anything more than offer their insight and opinion.

The process of journalism is a conversation.

Or at least it is now, these days, in the best places. Jeff Jarvis responded to Thompson, and a good discussion is ensuing in comments there.


“I think you still see journalism as a product and that is my fundamental disagreement with you. It is a process. And the conversation and accountability and ass-fact-checking and help that goes on in public now — not in a still-controlled and private letter to the editor — is that process.”

So, future professional journalist friends of mine, are you willing to to participate in a public conversation that might involve your readers publicly correcting, lambasting, or otherwise launching pixelated harangues at you?

Sounds like fun to me.

The Guardian gets it

I’m passing along, thanks to Jeff Jarvis, this speech (mp3) by Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian newspaper in England.

It’s about the future present of newspapers in the Internet age, or the blog years, or the time-of-the-great-podding, or the “it’s Craig’s fault” days. Whatever you want to call it, it’s worth a listen or two.

Extensive commentary and notes of and on the speech can be found here and here, if you’re not in a listening mood.

Listen to your readers

Last night at SJSU’s King Library, former Knight Ridder chief news executive Jerry Ceppos made a few points that brought together a few things I’ve been rambling on about lately:

  1. Newspapers need to jump into the online world with both feet. Take the governor off the engine and start devoting a larger percentage of your staff to creating and editing content for the Web.
  2. Newspapers need to communicate with their readers, and the Web is the easiest way to do it. Newspapers need to talk with readers about why they do what they do, and what decision-making processes go into putting together a big story. This is part of building trust.
  3. Most of newspapers’ new readers and new profits are coming from online

Here’s a great example of a newspaper website that’s giving readers a chance to voice their views on opinion pieces by way of a group blog where all the regular newspaper columnists, plus many special guests (think Huffington Post) can and will blog on their own time, with comments flowing freely, including links to Technorati trackbacks. It’s from the Guardian, and it’s called Comment Is Free.

There are even links on each user comment to report it as “offensive” or “unsuitable.”

This is a great way to create a real live public forum, without confusing reporting on fact with expression of opinion. Let your readers easily add their own voices to your opinion pages, and you might build a site that they want to come back to.

[UPDATE: Oh, and of course, there’s an Editors’ Blog on the Guardian site. From its sidebar: “The Editors’ blog is a daily account of the process of editing the Guardian and Guardian Unlimited. It covers how editorial decisions are made, the events and discussions that take place and how the editorial side of the organisation works.”]