May 27, 2001
weblogs != journalism

Weblogging as a New Form of Journalism, from Online Journalism Review.

Weblogs are a kind of formalized, broadcasted banter. Weblogs aren't journalism any more than hearing a friend summarize their views on a recent event is journalism. People who maintain good weblogs generally find diverse sources for a given topic, but they rarely talk to primary sources, much less interview a number of them so as to present a balanced account of the different perspectives on a given issue. Granted, newspaper and TV journalists don't do this well at all, but that's hardly a reason to call weblogs journalistic.

For me, weblogs (as well as emailed links and other ways of distributing pointers to interesting stuff) are useful because they create an infrastructure that lets readers' attention be directed to information not for the reason that some editor decides that it's important, but because people are interested in it. Such an infrastructure creates the possibility for internet users to bypass the corporate-controlled propaganda and focus their friends' and readers' on particular alternative coverage. Just as easily, it can be used to maintain the status quo; the majority of folk who maintain weblogs probably don't think twice when linking to a CNN story as a reliable account of a given event, and the same people probably think I'm some kind of crazed anarchist conspiracy theorist.

(If I sound like a paranoid conspiracy theorist when I refer to corporate propaganda, please read Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman before dismissing what I say :> It's available from fine bookstores everywhere.)

Journalism can change a lot (for the better) because of the net, but coverage in weblogs isn't how that will happen. An easy way for journalistic coverage to improve would be to recognize the lack of space constraints and take advantage of them. Right now, editors have to be selective about the amount of information that goes into a publication because space has to be used well. The result is a series of executive summaries of issues or events, written in the inverted pyramid style. Online news reports tend to be even more headline and summary driven -- more about condensing coverage to small newsbytes. The problem is, there tends to be no material lying beyond these super-compressed summaries. But why shouldn't there be? If a news story features a few select quotes from a news conference, why not provide and link to a transcript of the same news conference for the readers who want more than a summary? Similarly, why not provide links to relevant transcripts of interviews, primary documents, etc.? There is a place for summaries, but now that we can -- with a relatively small added cost -- the in depth information should be available as well.

Until the news organizations start doing it, weblogs provide a good way bring the summarized and in-depth material together.

posted by dru in politicsoftech