Today, I’m turning my blog over to Jill Hurst-Wahl, a professor of practice in Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, president of Hurst Associates, Ltd., and a frequent blogger/speaker. She blogs at Digitization 101 and eNetworking101.
I “met” Jill when I interviewed her for a story I wrote about the proliferation of mommy blogs and social-networking sites targeting mothers. We then connected on Twitter, and finally met in real life when we were both on a panel discussing new media for the Oswego press club in Upstate New York.
She was good enough to put together this guest post, which offers an interesting view of the changing world of journalism. Here’s Jill:
The Story is Complex
My grandfather (1889 – 1964) was a linotypist-machinist who worked for a newspapers in and then in Elmira, NY. In his early days, newspapers were the way that news was transmitted besides word of mouth. Newspapers were charged to get it right. That meant getting the whole story and communicating what people needed to know. It meant creating a product that people were proud of and one that people relied on. From his legacy, I grew up thinking that if it was in the newspaper, then it must have been verified and thus true.
As a teenager, I discovered the tabloids and knew that all of that might not be true. Yet it was interesting to read. More recently, I’ve become over-exposed to journalists who keep a story in the news, even when it should have faded to the back page (e.g.,). I grew up thinking that I knew who the media was and what they did. But now I find myself wondering, what is a journalist?
The dictionary says that a journalist reports, writes, edits, photographs or broadcasts the news. That definition is broad and covers much of what I do as a blogger. However, bloggers often do not look at a story from multiple perspectives or dig deep beneath the surface. Most bloggers report on what they know and love, and ignore those things that aren’t of interest. While journalists may follow their passion; being a journalist is their job.
Because both transmit useful information and often follow their passion, the line between bloggers and journalists to become blurred. We are surrounded by journalists who are influential experts in specific topics. Bloggers can also be subject experts with an important point of view. They can (and do) wield influence within their niche. A group of bloggers on a mission can be a powerful force because they know how to use web 2.0 tools in order to be heard. That also means that bloggers can push an agenda, which often they do. In fact, it is their role as opinionated, passionate voices that is important. They will carry the torch for an issue or cause when no one else will, and amass a following.
If you are comparing bloggers to specific sections of a newspaper, I think many bloggers report information that could appear in any section of a paper. Indeed some bloggers — and other users of social media — have broken important news stories. But much of what bloggers write would fit well into the opinion section of the paper. Many bloggers are more opinion than fact. While blog readers want facts, they also want to know what the blogger — that subject expert — thinks about the news. Has the blogger given it — whatever it is — a thumbs up or thumbs down? While I hope that the opinion is based on truth, opinions can be based on anything.
In my mind, journalists search for the truth, state the facts, and are impartial in their reporting. Even when they are passionate about a story, they should report both sides and not slant the news. Unfortunately, many who were journalists are now more like entertainers. They are not impartial. Like bloggers, they have become editorial staff, who present an opinion. It is likely you can think of people who are “editorial journalists” (an oxymoron, but I’m not sure what to call them). If not, just turn on a cable news channels and likely you’ll be watching one.
So we have bloggers and “editorial journalists” (opinionists), but what about the pure journalists? This is the group that provides the information that bloggers and opinionists require, yet this is the group that is being downsized due cost cuts. Bloggers, opinionists and others who rely on everyday journalists for information need to work to ensure that they survive.
How? Here are three ideas for the nonjournalists:
- Find a journalist who is writing about your area of interest. Quote that person’s work in your blog posts, newsletters, etc., and give that person proper attribution. Don’t just do this once, do it frequently. The person will see if (if the materials are online) as well his/her institution, and it will demonstrate that the journalist is providing value to the community.
- Feed information to journalists that care about your area of interest. It is likely that you know something that they should know, so tell them. Even if they don’t use the information immediately, you have given them information that they can build upon. (Don’t over do it. An occasional, high value tidbit will be welcomed, but frequent “noise” will not.)
- Talk to your local media about the value they provide. Discuss the areas were they are doing great and talk about the areas where you would like to see improvement. But don’t just talk about where they could improve, talk about how you can help them improve. Could you be their local eyes and ears? Can you help them dig for details?
Yes, I’m asking you to be proactive, to work with the journalists in your midst, and to demonstrate their value. We need them, and they are not going to survive without us.