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2004-11-06 19:39:28.854797+00 by Dan Lyke 2 comments

I'm here at Bloggercon, right now I'm in the session on "journalism" being moderated by Scott Rosenberg. So far I'm not feeling like we're getting any sort of conversation that hasn't been happening online, and I'm much more interested in trying to break out some discussions from the formal sessions, but haven't had much luck with that so far.

[ related topics: Dan's Life Weblogs Journalism and Media Salon magazine ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Me, too made: 2004-11-09 00:14:45.576094+00 by: cbrayton

I was there, too, and felt pretty much the same way. I'm a journalist by day and a blogger by early morning and evening, so of course I'm interested in the "citizen journalist" concept, but the thing that always gets me in events of this kind is how they wind up being dominated by J-school-trained editorial managers like Rosenberg and McKinnon who profess to speak on behalf of journalists. What you never hear is what you hear every day in news rooms from rank-and-file reporters: "I wrote a great story and that freaking editor messed it up, spiked it, rewrote it so it no longer made sense," and so on.

A lot of the journalists who covered the Howard Dean "scream," for example, thought nothing of it at the time--it was only remarkable on the video because Dean was miked and wasn't drowned out by the crowd as he was if you were there in person. It was the newsroom managers--the ones in cahoots with the suits in Circulation and Marketing--who sexed that story up as "Dean is loco!"

These people talk like they're reformulating rocket science to make faster-than-light travel possible. It's all bunk. Journalistic ethics and investigative techniques are NOT rocket science. Anybody with a decent liberal arts education or even good street smarts can Google some of the good Web sites out there on the Freedom of Information Act and computer-assisted reporting and start doing it themselves, and holding the mainstream media to the very simple and intuitive principles involved--which can basically be boiled down to "If your mother says she loves you, get two corroborating sources and you can run with it."

Anytime I see a list of words like "core values," "accountability," and all that junk going up on a white board, I start thinking "consultantspeak": language designed to make you feel like you need to pay someone smarter than you to tell you what things mean. But take the term "journalism" back to its roots and you'll find it means something as simple as "writing every day." If the kind of writing you like to do is reporting, well, why not? Go to. All you have to do is write down facts, think, and then ask the right people the right questions. You can learn by trial and error and get better at it by blogging, so long as you have readers who will give you feedback. It's as simple as that.

The best part of the session for me was when the PR blogger piped up with "journalists are corrupt scum!" (I was the one who brought up the difference between advocacy and reporting and the professional ethics involved.) That cracked me up: I just edited a column on that in my paper where I had to talk the writer out of saying the same thing about what we like to call "the dark side."

I still think there's a lot of "citizen journalism" that's actually advocacy in disguise: Powerlineblog.com, for example, of Rathergate fame, is written by a bunch of lawyers at a conservative think tank. Just because it's true doesn't mean it's not propaganda; just because it's propaganda doesn't mean it's not true. Rather deserved what he got for making bigger than the story himelf, but the fact is that CBS behaved properly, in the end, and the fact remains that they DID present some evidence, albeit not conclusive by any LEGAL standard, that Bush evaded military service.

Sorry to abuse your comment space with this rant. Oh, well, the bandwidth involved is trivial. You can come and borrow some of mine some time if you like (once my ISP gets my blog back up: mortifying to appear at Bloggercon with a mySQL error appearing instead of all my brilliant personal thots) ...

Colin from Bklyn http://del.icio.us/blogalvillager http://del.icio.us/SIN

#Comment Re: made: 2004-11-09 03:26:11.276733+00 by: Dan Lyke

I almost always enjoy the conversation on Flutterby, but a few times in the years that we've been around someone pipes up in the comments with an essay that blows the doors off my entry and makes me glad I put the effort in to keep this site up. I need to make another category for "great reader input" to collect these in, there have been a few over the history of the site, and this is one I'm going to want to read again in two years.

While that session seemed to be okay from the "we need to blow off steam at each other" standpoint, we will only have a good "blogging and journalism" discussion when someone on the journalist side of the room stands up and says "yes, we have deadlines, and we have been known to just rewrite press releases, and sometimes our editors screw us over", and someone on the weblogger side of the room acknowledges that "yes, doing this full-time requires that you think about your income stream and have deadlines, for some stories you have to be careful about pissing off your sources, and for the most part what we offer is domain knowledge applied to primary sources, not primary sources ourselves".

What I'd like to see is ways we can better work together. I hate to praise Drudge, but one of the ways that journalists have used him over the years is to kick their editors; feed him a story, he breaks it, then the editor has to let the more researched version out. Similarly, it'd be great if we could use some of the social change that webloggers can effect to change journalism, and I see two immediate gains for this:

  1. Get news outlets to publish the press releases and PR material that they use as sources. Yes, this'll deprive a lot of AP writers of their livelyhood when it's realized that the primary function of some of those hacks is introducing typos before the release goes out on the wire, but it also gives us an immediate "dig further" ability, give us a way to audit the processes of a given news gathering organization.

(And leaving it up to the process of the particular news gathering organization is one of the places where I almost had to leave the room from suppressed laughter. Someone made that comment about building a brand as an individual reporter aside from the organization they work for and... well... I forget the exact words so I can't quote and really pick a fight, but it was clear that all of the commenters in that thread hadn't thought about the editorial process very clearly.)

  1. Find ways to use the specific domain expertise of webloggers. The defining moment in my circles was a conversation in the Pixar lunch room where someone reading the New York Times[Wiki] said "this is a fascinating article on terrorism, well researched, informative...", thumbed through a bit further, and said "this article on computer animation is total crap". Whereupon a quiet voice from another table said "somewhere there's a terrorist saying 'this is a fascinating article on computer animation'". I'll sidle around the cynical interpretation and point out that those of us who spend day in and out on a given topic are going to know more than someone who has to cover a much wider beat, and an organization that's willing to incorporate some of the processes of weblogging into their system can collectively be a lot smarter than many of the current publications.

Thanks for piping in!

find some symbiotic way to provide better fact checking.