Blogs and Journalism: A Matter of Tone?

Journalists and Bloggers

This is a blog. A rather hazy definition with the proliferation of online articles submitted in all sorts of formats, but I call it that simply as there is really no other tag that trumps. Some would rather call online articles just that – an article. Does not matter who is the author, or from which publication, but the difference between a blog, a post (or article), a Tweet or Facebook status update, YouTube ‘Vlog’, podcast, is becoming increasingly blurred as legacy media themselves are trying to define the relevance.

Laura Payton and Kady O'Malley

Laura Payton and Kady O'Malley: Twitter

This topic came about from a Twitter conversation between Kady O’Malley (Twitter @Kady) and Laura Payton (Twitter @Laura_Payton) both CBC Parliamentary reporters. Look at many media outlets, their online pages have navigation bars that define topics – National News, World News, Sports, Politics etc. and note the recent addition, Blogs. See The New Yorker, where the Blog link is third in the top navigation bar, The Tyee, more interesting as it is an online only news source, but still wishes to define ‘blogs’ vs ‘articles’. The question is, what defines a ‘blog’ vs what those publications might prefer to call an article? Most publications, be they daily, weekly or monthly have websites, yet they name similar ‘posts’, ie what the New Yorker or Tyee call ‘blogs’ as something else. The Vancouver Sun, a Post Media publication, does have a section blogs.vancouversun.com, which is clearly held under their Opinion section, CBC has no highlighted Blog section on the website main page, although does have the Inside Politics Blog, while the Globe and Mail does have a World View Blog within the main navigation. The list could go on – CNN does not define blogs vs articles, yet clearly has both internal and out-sourced opinion pieces, along with iReporter, BBC has an Editor’s Blog…

Kady O'Malley and Laura Payton: Twitter

Kady O'Malley and Laura Payton: Twitter

More interesting is the debate over blogs vs journalism has moved internally. This is fascinating, and one that everyone who believes objective media is key to, well, shall we say, democracy (?)

Only a few years ago the academic, journalistic and political chatter was about the influence of legacy media outliers, the citizen journalists, taking on the mainstream, gaining an audience and undercutting the established TV, print and radio networks, for a variety of reasons. An ‘us vs them’ out cry. Now that debate has moved into media organizations themselves where the the personal touch to an article that has passed the editorial eye, becomes an added extra to the publication – an author blog, within the same publication. Maybe this is one way for publications, and networks, to keep their producers within the realm, and not go off station. The fact is, savvy journalists who realize the power and prevalence of social media, can create their own brand and trust network. Many Journalists have their own self-published blog websites, twitter feeds, Facebook profiles and if relevant, Flickr and YouTube profiles as well. The trend, however, is for the more personal posts to now be included within network owned mediums.

Journalist vs Blogger

In Canada there is really no legal distinction between a citizen journalist (blogger, tweeter etc.) vs someone employed as a reporter for an established media organization. All are subject to the same libel laws, all have the same right of access to information, and protection of sources – and in fact, with the rise of social media, politicians, companies, brands and organizations are quickly turning away from the ‘mainstream’ to the niche. More bang for the ‘tweet’, if you can go outside of traditional broadcasting. Better if one can use both….for now

Merging of Technology

Legacy media going online: I was there in the early 90’s going into the 21st Century watching and advising companies and media outlets. Always with the caveat: no matter which route you choose, look to the niches, watch the bypassers, because that is your route to an audience. True today. WordPress was the open source, and often derided, platform that hard core bloggers used. Look at it now – it is the platform for NPR, Wired, The Vancouver Sun (Post Media) Opinion section and over 67 million websites under wordpress.com – let alone how many are WP self-hosted. The point being, while media was trashing open source, they are now embracing the code – and if not a direct buy in, seeking to emulate the structure. The problem for legacy media is not the structure or platform, it is the fact they are now catching up. There is a de facto understanding, at least among individual journalists, that the corporate structure is crumbling.

The Blog Structure Wins

The problem with legacy media, be it print, TV, radio or even new online only outlets is that they are deeply reluctant to out link. Not a problem of course for anyone hosting their own blog – and as many journalists do the same on their own personal blogs, those outsourced links provide a back up for deeper, investigative, reporting, and transparency.

The Problem with Blogs

Bloggers are you, me, employed journalists, an idiot, a brand, a charity and all are blurred. On top of that, those longer form citizen journalist blogs could be incredible investigative reportage, or a government/company trying to assuage an audience, or a favourite newspaper. This goes beyond ‘search’ online, as any tech savvy person can now beat out a government or media, company brand with credible SEO (search engine optimization) – and hence the reason Google has added real time Social Media to search queries, along with G+. Bloggers have the same potential, maybe even greater, to reach and influence an audience as any media outlet.

Speaking with Ross Crockford, a writer, journalist, blogger and former editor of Victoria’s Monday Magazine he noted the online media miasma is problematic for legacy publications.

For journalists there is a premise of objectivity, but that is breaking down. Fox News in the US, Sun Media in Canada are examples where a bias for a point of view seems obvious, but many still perceive them as objective. What must terrify publications is the full rich media palette available to bloggers – the ability to link out for documents and sources (authenticity and verification). Journalists are restricted by editorial guidelines, style books, available word space, and the time available to report on any particular story. There is also an assumption that ‘news’ must be published quickly, which is especially difficult for print media. A story that breaks after deadline is often old news by the time it is reported in the paper the next day.

Ultimately the debate over how to define a ‘blog’ vs an ‘article’ is really between journalists themselves, and the relevance, or not, to their publications and mediums. Maybe within the legacy network media space, Laura Payton is correct – that the ‘journalist’ blogs are more informal and add colour. Outside the professional journalism publoshpere, bloggers have little issue with definition…and yes, Kady O’Malley, we completely agree that many blogs report news!

Thanks to Emmett Macfarlane (Twitter @EmmMacfarlane) for the Canadian Supreme Court rulings and pointers. Ross Crockford for the many phone calls, and deep insight from the point of view of an editor. Lorraine Murphy (Twitter @Raincoaster).. and a quote from her..

Remember when CBC used to link to all the blogs that linked to it via a sidebar widget? That was AWESOME. Long gone

and from Jess Hill, ABC World producer and reporter (Australia)

Jess Hill on Blogs and Journalism

Jess Hill on Blogs and Journalism

Jess Hill - ABC Australia

Jess Hill – ABC Australia

See also a previous blog post ‘Why Journalists need to Think like Bloggers’ and Google Scholar links

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. especially if you are a blogger…
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Discussion7 Comments

  • Mat Wright Nov 29, 2011 

    Thanks to Laura Payton for reminding me of the CBC Inside Politics Blog – http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/inside-politics-blog/

    Reply
  • raincoaster Nov 29, 2011 

    The whole idea of journalistic objectivity has been suspect since the ’60’s, and for good reason: it’s bullshit.

    Hunter S. Thompson:

    Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.
    Better than Sex (22 August 1994)

    Reply

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