Thursday, December 29, 2005

Bloggers Are Not Journalists
(But Sometimes They Travel Together)

Lord of the Blogs
Kathleen Parker,
Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel
Dec. 28, 2005

"Of all the stories leading America's annual greatest hits list, the one that subsumes the rest is the continuing evolution of information in the Age of Blogging.

"Not since the birth of the printing press have our lives been so dramatically affected by the way we create and consume information -- both to our enormous benefit and, perhaps, to our growing peril.

"What is wonderful and miraculous about the Internet needs little elaboration. We all marvel at the ease with which we can access information -- whether reading government documents previously available only to a few, or tracking down old friends and new enemies.

"It is this latter -- our new enemies -- that interests me most. I don't mean al-Qaida or Osama bin Laden, but the less visible, insidious enemies of decency, humanity and civility -- the angry offspring of narcissism's quickie marriage to instant gratification..."


Parker has a point.

Blogs should never be mistaken for being true journalism. Blogging is blogging. Reporting is reporting. Sometimes they travel together hand-in-hand along the information highway, other times they refuse to play together and need to be separated.

As a current blogger, I'll be the first one to say that the Zenformation Professional is not a news source. I like to think of it as a "personaprofessional" space. I'd like to think I add something to the human experience through this homestead on the World Wide Web.

However, as a former journalist, I'll be the first to admit that the Blogosphere offers as just many opportunities for perpetuating rumors, myths, gossip, and slander as it offers opportunities for sharing information.

Simply put, blogs are not - and should not - ever be mistaken for the front page of a newspaper. Instead, the blog universe exists more as one giantic, unedited, unfiltered Op/Ed page.

Posting to a blog does not make one a reporter, no matter how much gossip they receive, no matter how much they read or watch.

If you're a blogger reading this, and somehow are under the impression that because you blog you are therefore a "citizen journalist," you probably have no clue as to what a working journalist actually does. Let me give you a very brief crash course:

The journalist's world is comprised of more than just sources of information. There's a team of folks behind every story you read or watch, from coverage of the local high school basketball tournament to the two-minute network packs shipped into your homes just in time for the nightly news.

There are reporters and editors, readers and producers, production staff, paginators, engineers, photographers, and graphic designers.

Being a reporter - actually covering events - requires a lot of grueling footwork, fact-finding, fact-checking, confirmation of information, double-checking sources, triple-checking sources, weeding out of false leads, writing, editing, printing, taping, fighting, teamwork, compromise, gatekeeping...

I could go on for about 20 lines but I'll stop there.

What a news consumer sees, reads, or hears, the final product, reflects only about five percent of the total work involved in putting together a legitimate news source.

Bloggers, for the most part, aren't trained journalists. Journalism requires a dedication to presenting an edited collection of truthful facts. When there is an error, there is the possibility of being charged with libel, the possibility of making a career-ending mistake, the possibility of crossing an ethical line that lands one in some serious hot water.

Journalism is a profession. To paraphrase that wonderful Stan Lee creation, with great power comes great responsibility. It is with that in mind that the drafters of the Bill of Rights included a clause establishing the concept of freedom of the press.

Blogging is not a profession. It is, for the most part, a free-for-all of ideas. While journalism serves as a clearinghouse of humanity's knowledge, the Blogworld serves as its discount swap meet. Every human being on the planet has an opinion about something.

Blogs simply offer humanity a chance to share its intellectual wares unburdened by concepts like ethics, responsibility, and profession. Sometimes that's a good thing; other times, the results can be almost appalling. Blogs work a lot like conversations.

Blogging is nowhere near, as some futurists have predicted, being some form of new journalism or a way for every armchair quarterback to play Edward R. Murrow. Instead, blogs offer a chance for people to share ideas across geographical, regional, social, and political boundaries.

Both the Blogosphere and journalism have their respective places in the modern world. Sometimes those places share a common property line; the dessimination of facts has been known to produce thoughts since the dawn of civilization.

The pair are sometimes companions but they are never the same thing.


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Dec. 29 2005, 6:32 PM PST

A few folks out there in Cyberspace may want to interpret my agreement with Kathleen Parker - a noted Op/Ed syndicated columnist as well as a commentator for the Rightist TownHall.Com (a noted conservative blog) - as being a blanket endorsement of her political leanings.

I assure you, that is definitely not the case. An editor of mine once had this sign above his desk that read, Reading only one side of things succeeds only in giving the world another one-sided idiot. I'm a firm believer in that principle.

There is plenty of room for a wide array of opinions and ideas beyond and within Right or Left labels. Regardless of political leanings, Parker is still one of the United States' most respected columnists, as are Molly Ivins, Cal Thomas, and Thomas Friedman. While I cannot say I agree with or endorse many of the ideas presented in her column, I do respect Parker as a writer and social critic.


The Zenformation Professional


W.C. Varones said...

Kathleen Parker is better known as the woman who took a bold and controversial stand against child molestation in her column, "Adult - child relationships are wrong -- always."

Alice: In Wonderland or Not said...

You mean I'm not a journalist??????????????????

Damn. ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm half with you.

Of course, there are blogs run by journalists - where do they fall in? And what about those where posts consit of links to published news stories? Those blogs aren't directly the news themselves, yet I think in those cases there is a bit of a grey area ... but I do get what you're saying, and you make a solid point.

Most blogs are just a public space for people to espouse their own Op/Ed. And in a lot of cases, the writers are journalists, former journalists, and educated professionals. Which for blogreaders adds tremendously to the degree of perspective on what is in the news. So long as - as you say - those blogs aren't mistaken for the news themselves. The worry is the analysis of the content - is it an educated person giving an honest analysis, or some random idiot who doesn't know what he/she is talking about? If the distinction can be made, no worries - but the danger here - which you allude to - is the idiot writers being believed simply because it is online.

Good post, dude.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I actually added the addendum after you visited, primarily because I wanted to make a distinction between agreeing with her on this one issue.

Lol...nah, pretty sure you don't want to go that route. Trust me...long hours, no pay, feeling like you're 50 when you're really 20 (I was a reporter before I could legally buy cigarettes.)


The ZenFo Pro said...

Good points. There is definitely some overlap between journalism and blogging. And I think there is definitely something to be said for adding commentary to current events - it keeps ideas flowing and does help guage public opinion (at least that of those on the tech blessed side of things, but that's a whole different ballgame).

What got me about Parker's piece, I guess, is not so much the content but the knee-jerk reactions of a lot of bloggers. Just looking at the Technorati tags made me cringe a bit. Is your average Internet user media saavy and information literate enough to make the distinction between an article written for news syndication by someone whose job it is to write such critiques and the opinions of, say, some telemarketer from New Jersey with an ax to grind? Or this site? Or anybody's for that matter? Most bloggers are hobbyists who just want to be heard by somebody; when they are heard, its so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that they are a Nellie Bly or a Walter Winchell. I know I've been tempted by that trap several times and had to give myself a reality check. Blogworld is an information cocktail party, not the CNN newsroom.

Two things got me thinking about this. One, a family member cited The Drudge Report as a legitimate news source. Matt Drudge is not a newsman, no matter how much he likes to think he is. Commentator, yes. He's a former giftshop worker with a God complex. Yet, because he's managed to hype himself up to the point where people take what he writes as gospel. That's frightening. With newspapers, television and radio, even orgs like Yahoo! News, there's editorial oversight, internal checks and balances. With blogs, its buyer beware, always.

Much love, dude. Hope the job hunt is going well, BTW.

The second thing that got me thinking was, ironically, librarianship. I think the difference between the blogosphere and traditional media, like the differences between a library and a personal book collection, lies somewhere in the authority control. Most blogs are run by individuals, including this one. Even when I was an editor, there was always someone, somewhere to keep me in line and my job, as an editor, was to do the same. That just doesn't exist, as Parker blatantly exposes, in the blog world.

Deb S. said...

Interesting post. I certainly agree that blogging does not equal journalism. There are times, however, when "citizen journalism" does work. One just has to be very careful about validity and sources.

What intrigues me about your post is that I am a journalist (with a long career in newsrooms), and I am a blogger. There are times when I think the two can coexist.

You have an insightful site. I plan to visit often.

Media by Sistrunk

Education by Sistrunk

Deb S. said...

By the way, I'm adding you to my Blogroll. Happy New Year.