Thoughts on blogging and journalism part II

So it looks like my thoughts (see below) made it on Metafilter and are starting to make their way on other blogs with interesting comments coming up in each cases. While I appreciate the accolades, what I find most interesting is that people are divided over whether blogging is journalism.

It’s an interesting question and one for which I have my own personal answer: right now, for the most parts, it isn’t. But is there a kernel of truth to the possibility that it is? Some say it will never be. If that’s truly the case, why is it that the media is painting it as such? Is it because they do NOT understand the weblog phenomenon? Is it because they have been misinformed by people in the blogging community who believe that it is? And if it’s not, what is it? Has the “professional press” been swindled into buying a non-story?

Something tells me that this is not quite the case. I do believe that somewhere, between where blogs are right now and where they could go, lies a grain of truth to the blog’s potential for being a new journalistic form.

Let’s dissect the job of a journalist.

First, the journalist hears about an event/fact/technology/policy/etc… He analyzes the value of the information. If it’s something that needs to be covered immediately, he starts researching. If not, he stores that information somewhere (either in a document or in his mind) for potential later use.

For research purpose, he contacts his sources (the value of sources evolves over time. Initially, a young journalist relies on public relations people. As time goes on, he develops contacts within his beat and gets past the PR people by going straight to people who have provided him with good information on the subject in the past). His sources provide him with more details and/or analysis, based on their own knowledge, which the reporter plans to use in his story. Some of those appear as quotes; others are “off the record” and are to be used as background information only.

Based on his own knowledge of the field, the journalist starts crafting the story, using what is called a reverse pyramid structure: most important information at the top, least important at the bottom. Depending on the medium, the journalist could be limited in how much information he can include in a story (in television or radio, this is limited to the number of seconds or minutes given to a story; in a paper, it is limited to column inches (or words). Interestingly, because the economies of freelance journalism are still based on a per word rate, the word limit has also migrated to the web).

Once the story is done, he gives it to his editor, who may or may not ask for more clarification or investigation of a particular part. The same loop happens again until the editor thinks the story is good and it is then published/broadcast/distributed.

That’s more or less the way journalism work today. If you apply the same model to blogging, links in a story are the sources. The problem I’m trying to highlight here is that, in journalism, a reporter usually has sources that his competitors do not (because of an “established relationship” with that source). What I’d like to see is more of an emergence of a distributed model. All bloggers cover the same story, but why do they have to go to the same sources?

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