by Matthew L. Schafer
Friday, both Paul Bradshaw at “Online Journalism Blog” and Angela Saini at “Nothing Shocks Me, I’m a Scientist,” (re)raised the question: Are bloggers hurting journalists? While Bradshaw was more reserved in blaming the problems of journalists on bloggers, Saini concluded that bloggers are indeed hurting journalists.
“The problem is that the profession is being devalued. Firstly, by magazines and newspapers that are turning to bloggers for content instead of experienced journalists,” Saini wrote. “And secondly, by people who are willing to work for free or for very little (interns, bloggers, cut-price freelancers).”
Bradshaw argued more accurately, writing, “Journalism as a profession has been consistently devalued economically as a result of one of those factors: increasing numbers of people who want to be journalists and who will work for free, or for low wages.”
Nonetheless, both Bradshaw and Sinai aren’t entirely accurate. First, bloggers are a value add. Hundreds of thousands of bloggers add quality content and opinion to a news environment where journalism organizations have increasingly given away their coveted norms, routines, and quality for the sake of saving a dollar or two. Indeed, the journalists who aren’t willing to sacrifice and who stick to those norms and routines aren’t doing too bad for themselves. See, for example, The Texas Tribune and the folks over at California Watch and their self described, “Bold New Journalism.”
The real cause of the problem is not bloggers, but newspapers failing to evolve to a new social and technological environment. Sure, it’s easy to blame it on the bloggers as Jackie O’Dell did in July. Honestly, though, journalists complaining about bloggers just makes journalists seem only more irrelevant.
This is problematic, because journalists are anything but irrelevant; they are absolutely necessary. While the economic, social, and technological climate may make it seem like they are less relevant, this is only an illusion. Indeed, they still produce a vast amount of the original content you read every day. Our democracy and our news environment needs journalists, but it needs journalists equipped to face the information environment of the 21st century. If journalists are having difficulties, it’s not because of bloggers, but because they refuse to adapt, as do the organizations they work for.
Most bloggers, however, aren’t trying to be journalists. They just simply want to offer their opinion and perhaps do a little research here and there. Indeed, they don’t have the training to be journalists. In all actuality, bloggers and journalists aren’t necessarily competing. While bloggers may borrow some content, they don’t have the want to spent months on a single story. They leave that to the professionals–the journalists. Bloggers focus on what they do well.
As Lippmann Would Roll said this summer: “It is no secret that blogs are not tied to the same code of conduct that their traditional counterparts are. That fact gives blogs, in general, greater latitude to play with a story’s focus, angle, tone, and sources or lack thereof. While this may not be kosher with the majority of the traditional media, it indeed serves an important purpose. It breathes life into stories, offers independent viewpoints, and highlights facets of a story that would otherwise be left in the dark.”
Because bloggers oftentime work off of content provided by journalists, there is an understandable amount of tension. This tension shouldn’t pit bloggers and journalists against each other though. Bloggers should always link to original sources. Journalists should give a blogger’s cogent critique it’s fair due, and each should respect the other. Indeed, if both bloggers and journalists do what they do best, both can succeed.