Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

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Deep thoughts on blogging, by Tom Korski

Hill Times columnist Tom Korski dug a figurative mineshaft during his recent deep investigation into blogs. He used all his powers of thought to ponder their purpose and meaning, and does not like what he found.

“Blogging is an industry joke. It’s all baby photos, in-flight menus, cheap taunts and Tony Bennett,” he wrote in that august newspaper’s March 21-27 issue.

Unlike, say, Mr. Korski’s cheap taunts against blogging.

What seems to have gotten his ire up are some claims that blogging will become the journalism of the 21st century.

Korski particularly didn’t like this statement by blogger/provocateur Warren Kinsella, made March 7:

“Their influence is shrinking with each passing day,” I told him.  “People read them less and less, and distrust them more and more.  When the water dries up, as someone once said, the animals start looking at each other differently.”

I dealt with Mr. Kinsella’s remarks extensively in Methinks Mr. Kinsella misinterpreted, which I posted on March 8.

But for the record, a Leger Marketing poll released March 21 found about 49 per cent of the Canadian public trusts journalists. While up three points from 2004, it’s still four points below the 2002 benchmark.

Interpret that as you will. But it’s “heartening” to know the rise came in a year in which there were numerous cases of plagiarism and fabrication reported in the Canadian MSM.

Anyway, Korski — who didn’t bother putting Kinsella’s remarks in any context — goes on to attack some of Kinsella’s more ornery, chest-beating statements. Be that as it may; blogs are intensely personal. You can use that as a reason to find them either appealing or distasteful.

Korski then goes on to write: Bloggers never break news, they selectively interpret news.

Unlike, say, Mr. Korski — or most other newspaper columnists, for that matter.

He goes on to quote the Christian Science Monitor, which said: “Opinion now regularly elbows aside the actual reporting of an event in order to tell you what to think about the event before you have learned, or made an effort to learn, what actually happened.”

But newspapers started running columnists’ interpretation of events on their front pages years ago, pushing the news off.

Talk radio, as Korski notes in his column, is notorious for analysis-over-news. It’s interesting to note that Jonathan Friedman, the new president of CNN, wants to push reporting more than commentary.

In any event, the problem is much bigger than blogs. It extends into the MSM itself. One wonders why the fair-minded Mr. Korski didn’t acknowledge that.

Actually, he does try to be fair:  He writes: In fairness, Ottawa blogs seem more inane than dangerous.

And again, the oh-so-selective Mr. Korski picks out posts like CTV reporter David Akin’s musings about beer – which Akin posted on Jan. 1 as part of a round-up of his best-of-2004 series during the slow holiday times — as an example of that inanity. Akin didn’t join the Parliamentary bureau until later in January.

But Korski didn’t tell you that. But why would he? Doing so would dilute the impact of his cheap shot.

Read some of Akin’s current postings about the Conservatives’ policy convention. It’s mostly value-added information, a way to provide extra stuff for people that can’t fit into a 1:30 to two-minute TV hit or a 15-column-inch newspaper story.

If people want to ask him questions or remark on something, Akin’s blog has a ‘comments’ feature.

And if Akin or some other journalist operating a blog puts in some fun stuff to go with the wonk stuff, what’s the crisis? Most MSM mix in lighter news with the heavier stuff.

In any event, Akin’s job as a CTV Parliament Hill correspondent (and mine as a writer for CTV.ca) is to produce interesting, news-breaking stories for his employer.

Reporters shouldn’t be scooping their employer by breaking news first on their own blogs.

I’ve worked for several national news websites, and all of them had policies against the website being the first outlet to break an exclusive story. Imagine how managers would feel if journalists started to go into competition with those websites by using their personal blogs.

It remains to be seen if independent Canadian bloggers will force stories onto the MSM agenda by doing some digging, but bloggers are currently doing so in the U.S. Don’t believe me? Ask Trent Lott. Ask Dan Rather.

Some of the top bloggers, like Markos Moulitsas of  DailyKos and Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit were asked to write on the 2004 U.S. presidential election last year by the British newspaper The Guardian, which happens to have a blog of its own.

Does anyone else find it interesting mainstream news organizations are starting to find talent outside of the traditional pools?

And even if Canadian blogs at this point are mainly interpreting news or fact-checking it, what, exactly, is wrong with that? The MSM has been losing market share for decades. One would think anything that that helps promote interest in its product would be seen as a good thing.

MSNBC.com certainly thinks so. That major online news operation provides an RSS feed that allows bloggers and others to receive automatically updated content (as does CBC.ca and globeandmail.com, to name two Canadian online news providers). Check out MSNBC’s blogger’s page and see how it is making efforts to get people involved in gathering the news, not just passively consuming it.

I love this wildly-out-of-context remark Korski made about bloggers: …They are called ‘morons’ in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Here’s the exact quote, which was originally made by CJR Daily editor (yes, even one of the most respected journalism magazines now has a blog) Steve Lovelady in an email to the PressThink blog about the resignation of CNN news executive Eason Jordan:

“The salivating morons who make up the lynch mob prevail. (Where is Jimmy Stewart when we need him ?) This convinces me more than ever that Eason Jordan is guilty of one thing, and one thing only — caring for the reporters he sent into battle, and haunted by the fact that not all of them came back. Like Gulliver, he was consumed by Lilliputians.”

Korski wrote that professional journalism  is edited into coherent, informative newspapers and broadcasts.He didn’t say anything about accuracy or context (coherence being enough of an achievement,  I guess), so I guess he’s off  the hook.

One last thing on the ‘morons’ stuff. Someone in the MSM who watches blogs much more closely than I suspect Mr. Korski does is Antonia Zerbisias, media critic for the Toronto Star. Here’s what she said in a recent column about going for pints with some right-wing Canadian bloggers:

… If I were running a news network, I’d give them a show. They’re young, they’re smart and they have plenty to say. I may not agree with their views on the Middle East or Canadian politics, but I respect them.

Besides, they’re way more entertaining than most old-media pundits.

Smart, informed, opinionated, entertaining — what’s not to love, or, if you’re feeling insecure about your MSM job, fear?

Problems with bloggers

I was telling my boss this week that bloggers remind me of my days as a student journalist (which I hate to admit is now 20 years ago).

Most people who came to volunteer for the paper wanted to be columnists. They thought they had lots of interesting things to say.

A vastly fewer number wanted to do the icky stuff of interviewing people or sitting through meetings or the other scut work of newsgathering.

Bloggers remind me of that.

Later, in the world of commercial newsgathering, the rock critic at the Leader-Post would occasionally be the object of a withering letter that would contain some variation on how many people would like to have his job.

Now, with the advent of content publishing systems (i.e. blogging software) for the masses, you can now be a DIY columnist or rock critic! Woo-hoo!! :)

But just having a platform doesn’t mean you’re being a journalist. To get a handle on what journalism’s about, read this statement of shared purpose at journalism.org, the online home of the U.S.-based Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Committee of Concerned Journalists.

To me, if you’re following those principles, you’re doing journalism, whether your work is done for the MSM or if you’re a blogger. But the opposite also applies.

When I look at some of the major U.S. political blogs, particularly the group ones, they seem to be more “faith” than “reality-based,” whether on the left or the right. They aren’t there to inform, they exist to do political battle and destroy enemies — which can include members of the MSM. Remember Lovelady’s e-mail.

I don’t know what proportion of individuals get their “news” from those types of blogs, but I hope it’s mercifully small. And in the recent State of the News Media 2005 survey in the U.S., those seeking a “journalism of affirmation” remains reassuringly small.

But the report also warns the era of “just trust us” journalism is coming to an end.

Bloggers are playing a role in that. It can be for the worse. I hope, however, it will be for the better.

There are apparently some who think it’s business as usual in medialand. I would humbly suggest they are fooling themselves.

In his song Ballad of a Thin Man, Bob Dylan wrote:

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

I wonder if the 2005 version should refer to Mr. Korski.

Sat, March 26 2005 » Main Page

2 Responses

  1. Anonymous March 26 2005 @ 8:19 pm

    Right now, it's going to take a major media corp to pick up the blog baton–and be aggressive about it–for this discussion to move ahead in Canada. But it's not as simple as just setting up a couple of sites, as the moonlighting print reporters will get bored of the novelty when the traffic doesn't come rolling in … and then what? So, a more concerted effort seems necessary. Meanwhile, there's an institutional nature to all the existing sites which is just plain baffling … aren't the ad bucks available now in exchange for doing a better job? Look forward to seeing who's first to break out of this wayward cycle.

  2. Anonymous March 29 2005 @ 8:54 am

    Good piece, Bill. I just tried to take a look at Korski's article but, alas, it was a PDF locked behind a subscriber wall. That fact alone speaks volumes about what the Hill Times knows about online publishing.
    I see a parallel between the “blogs as journalism” issue and the same sex marriage issue. The problem that traditionalists have is with changing definitions. Just as some entrenched “Christians” contend that gay marriage can't be real marriage, employed journalists contend that blogging can't be real journalism. For that to be so, the definition of journalism would have to change.
    I tend to agree. For the most part, blogging is not journalism. You hit the nail on the head with the anecdote regarding student newspaper writers. Bloggers are not motivated to go out and report. We are mostly satisfied with reacting to news reports or passing along our opinions on the issues of the day. Bloggers are op-ed writers or reviewers – not newsgatherers.
    I know a few MSM journalists. Many would welcome the day they could be freed from the obligation of reporting on boring council or school board meetings and move up the corporate ladder to be editorial writers. In smaller newspapers, some writers do dual duty. The quality of their output when writing the occasional editorial indicates a level of motivation not seen in their humdrum day-to-day reportage.
    Bloggers may raise the ire of some MSM types simply because they are seen as queue-jumpers – going straight to editorial writing without paying the requisite dues. What MSM journalists should consider is that, with few exceptions, bloggers write without any monetary remuneration: zip, nada, nothing.
    As an outsider looking in at the MSM's bafflement regarding blogging, I think those reporters who aspire to be columnists or op-ed writers should be seizing the opportunity presented by blogging. What better place to hone one's skills? Rather than denigrating the efforts of amateur writers, why not use a blog as a writer's portfolio?
    By failing to embrace blogging as a tool in the professional journalist's toolbox, reporters could easily be setting the stage for being passed over for promotion to columnist. When MSM organizations start to hire fresh, new columnists from the ranks of bloggers, reporters will have only themselves to blame. After all, setting up a blog costs nearly nothing but a modest investment of time.
    I tend to disagree with Marc re blogging needing a major media corporation to get involved in order for blogging to succeed. It already is succeeding. If the only yardstick by which success is measured is money, then blogging has not yet demonstrated viability. However, if readership, influence and mass-participation are part of the ingredients of success, blogs are doing quite nicely, thank you.