Archive for November, 2008

The Dangers of Blogging

November 23, 2008

As trainee journalists we keep being told about how everything is changing, supposedly for the better, and how blogging enjoys massive benefits over printed material. As you can tell from previous blogs, part of me is convinced. But after the lecture by Shane Richmond I decided the time has come to have an argument with myself because I’ve yet to rid of the ‘beware of the blog’ mentality I started this course with.

Maybe I am just a traditionalist. Maybe I’ll always read a newspaper over online content. But maybe my instinct is right. Maybe blogging isn’t what it is cracked up to be.

This is not my attempt at doing a 180 degree turn in where my blogs have been heading but its time to bring the newspaper back to prominence. They have been around for decades. Surely they aren’t going to be knocked off their pedestal just yet? Technology is forever changing and updating, yet newspapers are still around today. Why are they necessarily in danger now?

What better way to start my argument against blogging than with this very blog which, however strange, is a blog against blogging. Seems strange for someone to show their disdain of blogs, through blogging, but nevertheless, it provides a funny read.

I mentioned in my last blog how the names of Baby P parents were named. Bloggers just do not have the same depth of media law knowledge that is needed to publish news content. Professional journalists do. People can say some really unpleasant things on blogs and as long as it is not illegal there is nothing that can be done. Blogging gives people a platform to vent rage and frustration, to be nasty and hurtful…just not illegal. Phew!

Freedom to speak in a pub with your mates is a great thing. Freedom to write content that can be seen by every single person worldwide is not necessarily so great. Why should people have their reputations damaged for the sake of allowing unprofessional people to publish their opinions on the internet? It is true that readers can judge for themselves what is good quality news and what is not. The only problem is that with the internet the bad news flows so fast.

There is the fear that those who do publish content just do so because the technology is available to them. They may have no knowledge of its power. Just its existence.

I do not even feel that the argument about readers expecting blogs and internet content is a viable one. The actual amount of people who embrace UGC is minimal. Looking at a debate on the BBC’s news site, Neil Thurman found that one of the most popular discussions on the Have Your Say section typically attracted contributions from only 0.05% of the site user’s in one day.

Clarence Mitchell said that blogs are nothing but trouble when it comes to the McCanns case. Blogs and forums referred to by Mr Mitchell as “hostile and negative” meant that the backlash towards the McCanns had reached the online world. He said: “The latter day lynch mob has gone digital.” 

Another famous documented examples of Web vandalism occurred on Wikipedia in the biographical article about John Seigenthaler, Sr

Blogs take ages to build up their readership yet newspapers already have that loyalty with their readers. A lot of people have their favourite newspaper; most will go into a newsagent or supermarket knowing that their hand is going to automatically reach for The Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, whatever it may be.

Shane Richmond said: “You can remain under the illusion that journalists are on a pedestal handing out their wisdom if you want, but that has gone already.” It might be hanging by a tiny thread but I am not sure that such dominance has completely faded.

So where does my argument stand now? For or against blogging and UGC? Guess you’ll have to tune in next week to find out…


The Internet and Journalism…Two Peas in a Pod

November 17, 2008

Do you really believe professional journalism is under threat from how easy the internet is making it to publish? Is the continuing evolution of the media and the internet damaging my journalism career before it has even begun? I’m not so sure.

Lets take the music industry as an example. Manufacturers of CDs have a good case for stating that they no longer have a safe career. In their eyes, music is in trouble. Wrong.

Looking at music through the eyes of iTunes, one would see music is alive and well, perhaps more so than ever (though the counter culturists of the 1960s would slam me down here and say Woodstock represented music at its most vibrant).itunes

The point I’m trying to make is from the perspective of a listener,  iTunes is making access to music easier than it has ever been before. A song is simply a download away. Doesn’t this story hold true in Journalism as well? The laptop replaced the printing press. Letters to the editor once had a prominent place in newspapers. Not anymore. Forums,  blogs and interactivity are the new kids on the block and they intend to hang around. Journalism is thriving, not going down the pan.

So why is networked journalism so great? Well, all links created by journalists are brought together to establish the most important, interesting and newsworthy ones.  Readers don’t have to trawl through dozens of articles to find the information they want. Journalists are providing a link that will hopefully take the reader right where they want to be.

Need a simple explanation? Every time a reader clicks on a link, it gets one vote. The stories with the most votes rise to the top.

When you are on Google’s result page what you are seeing is links, links and more links. But the best ones.

Convinced? I’m starting to be. The internet is refocusing journalism so that the professionals are putting their readers first.  Michael Rosenblum, often referred to as the `Father of Video Journalism`, said at the Society of Editors Conference that all journalists are “shit scared” of change, even saying that when the internet first came into their offices everyone was desperate for it to get straight back out of there. But now journalists should be eternally thankful for it because it has allowed the journalism industry to re-connect with its audience. Just like iTunes allows music fans to select a song here and there from an artist instead of having to buy the whole album, readers can now pick and choose the stories they want.

The latter parts of his speech were equally engaging.

Technological updates are inevitable. The purpose of technology is not to destroy journalism; it wants to improve it. Journalists must embrace this because without technology a journalist has next to nothing to work with.

We must be cautious however. Sometimes the internet, especially blogs, is dangerous when it comes to providing news, as shown when the identities of the Mother and Stepfather of Baby P were posted on the internet. The thorough checking and editing of a newspaper means that 99.9% of the time, this would never be allowed to happen. But with no sub-editor clocking their every move, bloggers have no restriction on what they can write. Newspapers may be becoming old fashioned, but I remain a traditionalist and trust news which is accounted for.

Journalists have a great opportunity here and should not let it slip by because of fears over what technology is doing to their business. They need to stop pointing fingers at things which could ruin them. Instead they need to embrace technology and get their heads around the possibility that technology could, and in fact has, enhanced the practice of journalism  far beyond what was ever possible in the days of the printing press.  If they don’t come to terms with the changes that have taken place they may end up being their own downfall.

A Blog on Blogging

November 11, 2008

Once again we have been informed of how blogging, a quirky sort of journalism, is the new kid on the media block. As Jody Raynsford said:

They are opinionated, ranting, often incoherent and frequently biased with little regard for accuracy or balance. They are also compellingly addictive and threatening to emerge as a new brand of journalism.”

I am under no illusions that some people would much rather read a personalized and conversational piece of writing than the detailed and structured article produced by a journalist clinging to the fundamental rule of telling the story, rather than worrying about if it is exciting for the reader.

Blogging certainly possesses dynamic quality as a result of the lack of agenda, no editorial stance and no pedantic editor standing between the writer and reader. Blogging provides reportage in a raw and exciting form with its alternative perspectives and first hand experiences providing for greater interaction between reader and writer.

Its importance is shown in the role it played in the downfall of Trent Lott as Senate majority leader. The mainstream media might have missed Lott’s remarks at Sen. Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party, but outrage in the ever-growing “blogosphere” fanned the flames until newspapers took up the story.

Yes, a blogger and a reporter are essentially doing the same task…informing the public of what is going on. Yet in some ways they are so fundamentally different. Whereas professional journalists are hindered by normal journalistic standards of objectivity, balance and accuracy, a bloggers work is raw, subjective and honest. A journalist has to be politically impartial. He or she has to remain detached from his subject area and report in a very stiff manner. He has to effectively say to the reader, “Look, I’m not allowed to give you my opinion, but here are the facts, here are the WHOs the WHYs the WHEREs, the WHENs and the HOWs.

In fact, US Journalist Steve Olafson, lost his job for being too personal when he criticised local politicians.

Yet the blogger can become personally involved. They report emotion and opinion and in some circumstances this is what readers crave. A journalist can sit at his desk and type about the “tragedy” of 9/11, whereas a blogger can throw out the rules of objectivity and be honest in saying how disgraceful and inhumane it was.

I mention 9/11 because it is often seen as the birth of the blog. When news of the event was released, people were so desperate for information and instant blogging provided just that. As Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Citizen Media,said: “The chaos was a galvanizing point for the blogging world. I remembered that old cliche that journalists write the first rough draft of history. Well now bloggers were writing the first draft.”

Over seven years later, the outpouring of emotion and information which occurred through that event set the precedent for what was to become a media revolution.

Social media consultant Matthew Yeomans said: “Back in 2001, blogs were still very much the geek toy of the Slashdot set. This collective tragedy demanded a forum to be shared by people all around the world who wanted to talk about what happened with anyone because it was the only way of making any sense of it. Were it to happen again, blogs and social networks would play an enormously cathartic role.”

Journalists must get used to this power shift. The audience is no longer simply an audience. They possess the ability to become the journalist. Journalists are no longer the bosses and their written word is no longer the law. Bloggers and journalists now exist in the same media space.

In 2003, Mike Smartt, editor of BBC News Online, said: ” They are an interesting phenomenon, but I don’t think they will be as talked about in a year’s time.2

This blog, posted five years later, proves just how very wrong he was…

Social Media: Release The Genie or Put it Back in the Bottle?

November 3, 2008

Journalism was once a career open only to the privileged few. Only those with the relevant qualifications and appropriate training could report and publish news. It was a sexy, powerful and exclusive career.

That is crumbling around us. The genie has escaped from the bottle and the public finally have the powers to publish news.

All the rules journalists used to be governed by have changed and something fundamentally transformative has happened to the communications world. Even the update of a facebook status is seen as the power to publish.

We can all publish news. Anytime. Anywhere. Anything.

Blogging turned ten this year. Time to reach for the birthday cake and celebrate, or get your scrooge head on, bury your head in the sand, and try desperately to pretend that such a transformative period in the media is just a load of hype which has gone on longer than it should?

To critics of social media, blogging is simply an amateur trying, yet failing, to outsmart a professional. But whose opinions do we really listen to? Is it the `Opinion` section of the Times, which shows the view of an educated and trained person, or opinion sites produced by the public and posted on the web?

Take this website here for example. I have been on holiday three years running and on each occasion I changed my mind on where I should go purely because of what these so-called amateurs had written about it. I didn’t realise the meaning of it at the time, but my action of basing my holiday decision on their review is a clear sign of the power amateurs have when they publish news on the internet.

This article here sums up the situation nicely.You can be forgiven for thinking that with sites such as Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, and with the millions of blogs out there, professional journalists have a bleak future. Wrong. There will always be a healthy career for a good journalist, who will get their story read despite the flood of alternatives offered on the internet.

But what social journalism provides is something more personal than what the professional going through the motions offers. Whereas a trained journalist gathers his facts, asks questions, and writes it up for a deadline, a citizen journalist is speaking from personal experience, giving a new and appealing dimension to news which was lacking before the internet came along.

I particularly like the last line of the article-The journalist’s “news nose” is still as important as ever – it just has a broader range of fragrances to sniff.

Pulitzer Prize winner Buzz Bissinger angrily said in a televised discussion of blogging on HBO.

“I think that blogs are dedicated to cruelty, dedicated to journalistic dishonesty. It is the complete dumbing down of our society.”

Yet with such a vast amount of social networking and blogging sites, the public have the power to publish in the palms of their hands.

Yes, blogging is sometimes simply a universal soapbox in that it is just someone ranting about a topic most people feel nothing for. But journalists’ understanding of blogging and their view of it is restricted by their fear that it will lead to a hasty end to their career.

This is dangerous. Blogging and other forms of social journalism are no longer bound by the chains that journalists once placed on them when they said, “Only we shall report the news.” Like I said, the genie has been released and is not going back to a life confined in a small space for some time yet. So journalists need to accept this, respond to it, and embrace it soon. Or else they may find that their intolerance of change is their own downfall.