Posting by Thomas Crampton

Time for some reflection after more than a month of blogging here courtesy of Joi.

For my part, I have found Blogs are different from journalism because:

Involvement: In blogging you engage and try to spark conversations, not lecture. You succeed by getting feedback, not by writing something conclusive. A successful posting is a work in progress.

Timing: Not so important as I thought it would be. When I blog about a news article that I wrote three days earlier, the conversation takes off as if it were new. In that way, Blogs are more like a cocktail party conversation.

Tone: Blogs are more informal and personal. You are forced the kind of self-references that most news organizations try to beat out of journalists from birth.

Opinions: Blog postings work best with strong opinions in them. This is problematic for a journalist because we are supposed to avoid that. You can often get the same effect, however, by asking sharp questions.

Length: Postings are never longer than a few paragraphs and often broken into bullet point style (like this posting)

Reporting: I have not yet done any primary reporting in order to write a Blog posting. The most I do is look up things on the web and riff off knowledge or experience I already have.

Simple and quick: Blogging takes far less time than I expected. Since it is asynchronous communication, you can log on once or twice a day or take part more actively. Very much enjoy checking in with old postings to see how the conversation has evolved.

These thoughts came yesterday in London while participating at a conference organized by Accountability on a panel hosted by Michel Ogrizek, vice chairman of Edelman, the other panelists were David Weinberger of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and John Lloyd of the Financial Times.

The audience and other panelists raised many great points - some of which I have plaguarized above - and we could only conclude that the interface between Blogs and journalism is a hot zone that will be fun to watch.

Additions and critiques to this list welcomed!

11 Comments

Thomas, great to meet you at the conference.

Excellent list. Now, mind if I pick some nits with it?

Opinions: When you say posts "work best" if they have strong opinions in them, it obviously depends on what you count as a post working. For getting lots of links, strong opinions certainly can work. But for entering and building communities, being interesting, compassionate, and responsive work even better.

Length: Certainly most posts are short, but (as you know) there are some great bloggers (e.g., Jay Rosen) who do long form writing sometimes or always. I only pick this nit because I'd hate to see any set of general characteristics of blogs - including this one - get codified. Blogs are, after all, just blank pieces of "paper."

Quite a list; you've clearly put some thought into parsing the form.

But I don't think blogs are different from journalism. At least, not as long as they 1.) stick to the facts and 2.) make an effort toward objectivity, which are the two criteria most dictionaries/J-schools/pointy-headed media experts require for a piece of text to be called "journalism."

Blogs can deliver excellent journalism. They also have an edge over print and TV journalism because of speed and reach. Blogs are just a medium; you can use them to publish poetry, journalism, reckless invective, whatever.

I think the more interesting questions buried in the blogs vs. journalism topic have to do with credibility and accountability.

If one were to follow this list, it would create such an awkward dichotomy between blogging and journalism that the two would be restricted to opposite spheres.

For instance: if bloggers attempt to "spark conversations, not lecture," then this would imply that the netherblogger journalism attempts to lecture in some way. I hope that's not true.

Also, if you've taken the time to look up things on the web for a post, it could be argued that you've done some reporting. You cite your sources and you cover your bases if someone ends up pulling the chair out from underneath a topic.


But then again, you might be right about everything, for a conversation was started about your post... You're a tricky one :)

Great post, but I respectfully disagree with much of it. A caveat: there are many, many, many different kinds of blogs. No one set of observations apply, because a blog about vintage car mods has totally different content than, say, BoingBoing or a blog about some tech industry vertical.

Anyway, your points one by one:

Involvement: definitely not just for blogs. I'd argue that more "conventional media" is aiming for this now, too -- from TV networks placing vid clips online with feedback mechanisms, to radio networks or newspapers engaging in online interactivity around their content...

Timing: I like your example here, and have also experienced this. But still believe that there's much greater pressure for speed on blogs than in any other medium. For many blogs, content can't sit around for three days and still be perceived as competitively fresh.

Length: Sometimes blog posts can and do work beautifully when they're longer than a few paragraphs.

Reporting: I regularly perform primary reporting in order to write Boing Boing posts. Other bloggers I share work with do the same fairly frequently.

Simple and quick: Dude, I wish. I spend way more time creating, posting, updating, factchecking stuff for BoingBoing than I care to admit.

In my experience, the process of developing a post for BB and the process of developing a story for print, online, TV, or radio has much more in common than not.

Thomas, you forgot that most print publications are subject to a spell check; "plaguarized"...

Basically I think you nailed this topic, but you seem to have avoided one big difference: accountability. When some kook with a web page gets the facts wrong, its just a matter of them going back and editing a text file or deleting the post to cover their behinds. In the end, no one cares. When NYT/FT/TWP/etc get their facts wrong there is genuine fallout.

Xeni,

As you pointed out not all web pages are the same. Regarding boingboing however, y'all are frequently subject to the amplified errors of the echo chamber no matter if some of you fact check or not. At least the editors of boingboing post corrections when you post non-facts.


Of course in the end, any media is capable of lax standards and any reporter is capable of reporting some crap s/he heard at a party as fact...

Great list, and great addition form Mike_B.

Xeni, you are the exception not the rule. If you improve all of the points as you have done by adding professionalism you move from being a blogger to being a journalist.

Nice list. It's a question I get asked from ad agencies all the time, so I have taken the liberty of mentioning your post on ADS ON BLOGS.

Right on... Can't agree more on your note re: Opinions.

I have had many debates with journalists and bloggers about what's more objective: the WSJ, or blogs. Bloggers often claim because they're independent, they're more objective; I tend to think otherwise. Blogs are subjective by design (usually one person's opinion). The reason why one thinks they're more objective is because you tend to read only those you resonate with. In other words, we can be more selective in reading as media become more fragmented.

Just as interesting as your list (which by and large I agree with) is the fact that Joi picked you - a member of the MSM - to be a guest blogger. Interesting idea! Oh, and yes posting regularly and semi intelligently to a blog does take time. But maybe it's worth it...

Chris_B: you mean kooks with blogs care if they get the facts wrong? :) That'd certainly not explain some of the absolute tripe that clutters the "blogosphere". Right from *watch.org type sites that should be renamed *bashers.org to mindless posts by high school kids on personal blogs. The kooks are a lot more visible - they shout the loudest :)

Journalism and ethics - I wish. The day of really ethical journalists is more or less fading, with a few notable exceptions here and there. There's just too much parachute journalism (cue Thomas Friedman on "globalization" or "rooftop of the baghdad hilton" type reports courtesy Christiane Amanpour), partisan slanted articles that dont even try to be objective (whether left or right wing slanted.. Lou Dobbs on CNN for example).

Of course, having cited two CNN examples, I'm quite sure to get at least some questions about why I consider cnn to be "journalism", but still ..

Another difference is that freedom of the press or not, most journalists will definitely draw the line well before calling Bush the sort of names that bloggers keep calling him, just for example.

Though, journalists do seem to lose that degree of reserve when posting on blogs :) Here's Hiawatha Bray [well.. i do pick my examples carefully!] on Dave Farber's IP list - http://lists.elistx.com/archives/interesting-people/200510/msg00054.html

> I actually have no objection to international oversight
> of the Internet, but the notion of handing it over to that
> collection of thugs, chiselers and road agents known as
> the UN is downright absurd.

... and the form that guides the content is one of the reasons why blogs are not able to go beyond the canonical.

Chomsky's critique of the American TV journalism is spot on here as well.

Only the arguments that can be put into sound bytes, which can be believed in an instant, are worth making.

An argument that takes a long paragraph (shudder, horrors!) to make, or which requires one to go beyond powerpoint style bullet points, does not fly.

Hence, we have 30 million bloggers recyclicm the same "opinions" and "strong points" between each other, patting each other on the back and agreeing how counter-culture they are from the main stream press.

Good grief.

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