Notes and thoughts from BloggerConII: Journalism with Jay Rosen
This was a well-attended session. About half of the attendees were professional journalists (either freelance or with big media) and most of the attendees were bloggers. I sat next to Jay Fitzgerald
of the Boston Herald
. Our discussion beforehand provided a little insight. I asked him whether his employer sponsored his blog, approved of it, was wary of it, or what. He said that he blogged while he was unemployed and then just continued. The Herald was cool with this because he does not blog on the topics he writes on for the paper. That way, there's less risk of someone questioning his professional writing using opinions he's expressed in his blog.
During the session, we discussed the definition of journalism (as an activity and as a profession) and the impact of blogging on journalism as well as the impact of journalism on blogging. We ended up agreeing that journalism is a profession with best practices and ethics. Journalism is gathering sources, checking facts, and drawing the results in to a coherent (hopefully less biased) account of an event or thing. Bloggers, are by definition, those who blog, or who post information in a serial format on a webpage (frequently using software that automatically adds permalinks, dates, archives, etc.). The information being posted can be journalism, but isn't necessarily
so -- even if done by a professional journalist.
Many journalists enjoy blogging because it allows them to work outside their specialty (for example, a business writer who blogs on sports), be free of external editorial control, and opine on controversial topics. This can, however, open them to lawsuits from which their employer will not protect them. Bloggers mostly don't have editors to proof what they're writing but they do have the ability to correct posts or delete posts. Additionally, they have immediate feedback from readers which helps them to understand what they're covering. Blogs can become discussions between the many. They are inherently more interactive, even just with links, if not with comments.
Bloggers are inspired to become journalists when they see that their point of view or neighborhood isn't covered as they wish, they want to get their voice heard (expressed better by Chris Lydon). Bloggers can write journalistic reports from PTA meetings, or speeches they attend.
Bloggers can provide journalists with access to eyewitness accounts in areas where the journalist may not be able to go (closed meetings, political protests, foreign countries). One problem I see with this that was not really discussed, is the accuracy or even veracity of eyewitnesses. Journalists must remember that just because the blogger claims to have seen something, then ran back to a computer to type it up, doesn't mean that it happened that way or even that that person actually witnessed the event.
On the other hand, some bloggers think of themselves as journalists, but mainly as op-ed writers. Trust is important, and as a blogger and not a representative of big media with an established brand, the blogger will have to establish that trust over the course of his writing. A blogger's name is his brand. [an aside, I'll be adding information about my identity in my description, not to necessarily add authority to my site, but to help you make a decision about me]
Also, many bloggers function as editors
, not as journalists. They select important coverage from different pieces of the media and then comment or critique or dispell, etc., what they read.
Finally, a teacher in the row ahead of me complained that it's really hard to train his students how evaluate what they read online. Yes, but, blogs don't make this worse. Teachers have been teaching formulas (last updated, qualifications of author, webpage address and domain...), but I contend that these do not work. For example, many of the attendees of this conference have Harvard Law addresses, but they might be posting pure opinion pieces and may not be experts in the area in which they are publishing. It's hard, but students have to learn more critical thinking skills and can't rely on applying simple rules.