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Why Blogging Changes Journalism

Boston Red Sox Pitcher Curt Schilling gives an amazing first person account of his shoulder surgery. It’s as if your your own brother played Major League Baseball and showed up at the family reunion with the tale of his latest surgery, and even some pictures to freak out the kids. Besides the surgery you get a glimpse into the business end of baseball with a bit of detail about how his contract defines the medical care he will get (third opinions?!).

This post stands toe-to-toe with the best stuff I’ve read in Sports Illustrated, which I consider some of the best writing you can find today. At a Podcamp session yesterday Mark Bernstein presented the idea that “Professional Journalism is a complete myth”. The only real requirement to being a journalist is that you can write. That’s it, it’s not like being a doctor or lawyer where you need years of education to be able to do the job. Granted, you can learn to write more gooder better and communicate more effectively, but no matter how well a journalist writes, it would be impossible to match what Curt himself has written about what he’s going through.

Oh, and the guy gets gaming too.

5 replies on “Why Blogging Changes Journalism”

Have to disagree with you (and Mark) on this one, John. There are a couple of not-so-subtle differences between a writer and a journalist: the ability to research, verify, and (ideally) stay as impartial as possible. Schilling’s account – like many blog posts like it – works well as an artifact of the event it describes because of its first-person nature. Schilling had the best seat in the house for his surgery, and that enables him to provide a really valuable perspective. Good writing in that case is just icing on the cake.

Not every Web “journalist” has that opportunity, though. The best journalists research the story and present the facts with as little bias as possible. Due partially to the ease of hitting “Publish” on WordPress, though, the tendency to verify is fading. Bloggers who are serious about their work should really take some time to study at least the very basic journalistic principles. (Note that I’m not making any judgments about today’s landscape of “professional” journalists; cable news pretty much wrecked that.)

There’s a fairly “old” (2004?) dystopian animation about the future of the news. I don’t agree with all of it, but it’s an interesting view:

http://mccd.udc.es/orihuela/epic/

From what I read into Mark’s arguments (an update here http://www.markbernstein.org/Jul0801/PodCamp.html) doing adequate research and verification, as well as trying to stay impartial, is just the amount of work that goes into the writing (and not taking a position). It’s just spinning the prose, not things that require years of specialized study or testing you need to go through to be branded a professional.

I will try and get in touch with him to see if he will weigh in on this.

As far as the ease of hitting publish, I’m the first to admit that 99.99% of what’s written on the web is garbage. The challenge is getting the good stuff, and the great thing is that now more than ever of it can be first person accounts and video with is less likely to be biased or distorted than second hand (or worse) content.

The video you mention is an interesting view, but it’s trying to force the old media perspective on the new reality – if we’ve seen anything so far it’s that media will continue to fragment, not be assembled into a single monolith of information.

This does make me think more about a real problem with investigative reporting though. In a lot of ways journalists are like musicians – the technology infrastructure has made it possible to move their content at zero cost, devaluing it completely. How will organizations that do the research continue to be funded? Perhaps it’s still about advertising, which literally sponsors the news.

Justin raises significant points, but they actually reinforce my argument.

The duty of honest research and verification falls to all writers and to all journalists. Not everyone meets the standards to which we should aspire, and shortcomings are found alike among those who are on the payrolls of newspapers and magazines and with those who are not. These duties are enforced, in our world, by criticism and by the marketplace, not by profession. If a doctor or a lawyer betrays the canon of the profession, they are expelled from the profession by panels of doctors and lawyers; control of admittance to and the practice of a profession is one of the defining properties of a profession. A newspaper reporter remains a journalist as long as Mr. Murdoch continues to pay her salary.

Objectivity and impartiality are complex and often contested commodities in journalism. Was H. L. Mencken “impartial”? Drew Pearson? Walter Lippman? Hunter Thompson? My mother was a newspaperwoman; when Mr. Hearst was signing her paycheck, just what did objectivity mean?

Ahhhh… Interesting, not only has the expense of publishing been reduced to what is effectively zero, so has the ability to criticize and test what others have written.

Thanks for replying, Mark, and for your comments as well, John.

It seems as though “journalist” has been a term assigned to those who follow the ethics and practices of research and verification. Of course, many people who are paid to do “journalism” in that sense of the word fail quite spectacularly. As long as the fundamental necessities of valid, accurate reporting are upheld, I think any person – paid or unpaid – can provide really valuable accounts of what happens in the world.

John: it’s interesting how projects like Wikipedia fall under the scope of your last comment. These new forms of publishing come with their own sets of benefits and drawbacks.

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