A colleague of mine asked today: “Is blogging journalism?”
She was helping her step-daughter write an essay, an assignment for a college ethics course. Two co-workers and I jumped in to answer the question to help my colleague assist her step-daughter.
I found the question compelling because it goes to the very heart of this battle between the old journalism and the new journalism. (The wired versus the tired, some people more clever than me call it.) So many journalists today seem to have intense anger directed at blogs, which they see as a looming enemy that is trying to corrupt journalism.
But, in my opinion, blogging isn’t the threat to journalism — fear of change is. As Charles Darwin explains:
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
My answer to my colleague and to you is: “No, blogging isn’t journalism.”
Blogging is no more journalism than e-mail, Twitter or even newspapers or TV stations are journalism. They are tools — ways to disseminate information, ways to help people connect with their world.
In a PressThink post from 2004 that rings true today, New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen describes bloggers as “speakers and writers of their own invention, at large in the public square. They’re participating in the great game of influence called public opinion. And they’re developing, mostly through labors of love, what I’ve called an extremely democratic media tool.”
Using that definition, which I like, blogging isn’t journalism, but journalists can blog. In fact, as a tool, blogging is particularly suited to journalism because it can help journalists connect and understand their readers better.
I believe the blogosphere is big enough to include journalist bloggers — now dubbed beatbloggers — nonjournalists, quasi-journalists, the proverbial guy sitting in his basement typing in his pajamas. I don’t fear the blog.
What I fear is the fear of change. What I fear is the fear of an open debate about the evolution of journalism. What I fear is journalists missing out on a bright future because they can’t imagine a world that is different than the one they know.
That’s what makes my blood run cold.
The way we practice journalism today is far from how it was practiced 200 years ago. A Wall Street Journal book review of “Scandal & Civility” explains that the American press of the 1790s stoked the flames of the post-revolutionary age with its bitter battles between emerging political parties. The press in those days was passionately partisan and mean-spirited, Marcus Daniels’ book contends.
I bring this history up not because I am not suggesting that we revert to the journalism of the early days of our nation. I bring this up not because I advocate we abandon the principles of today’s journalism and play ” fast and free with details” — a phrase I borrow from one of my commenters — in the blogosphere.
I bring this up to make the point that the only constant is change. Journalism 50 years from now will be different than it is today in the same way that journalism 50 years ago was different than it was in the 1700s.
We can accept and embrace change and be part of the forces that shape what journalism evolves into. Or we can dig in our heels and insist that journalism never change, though it has been evolving for centuries.
Blogging has changed journalism, but it is not journalism. Blogging has given people, regular folks, a voice they didn’t really have in traditional media, or that they had in only a limited way.
Blogging is a medium, which has routines, the normal way of doing things that are evolving right now. In the same way news writing is less formal than academic writing, blogging is less formal than news writing. (And microblogs like Twitter are less formal than blogging.)
Blogging is a tool — one of many — that can help journalists and writers of all types connect with readers, communicate information and help people make sense of our increasingly complicated world. Blogging won’t solve everything, and in five, 10 or 20 years or sooner, something may replace it. And, hopefully, journalists will embrace the “something else,” too.
What do you think?