I’ve been a journalist and publisher for almost my entire adult life, so what I’m about to say might come as a shock to some:
Blogs are not journalism.
I’m taking this position for a number of reasons, most of them self-serving, but truth be told I could just as easily sit here and give you every reason why blogs should be considered part of journalism.
Actually, that might be a good exercise so let’s do it.
To understand why blogs should or should not be considered part of journalism you have to look at what defines a blogwhat are blogs at their essence? What makes blogs unique?
Blogs are clearly defined by three features: speed, unfiltered content and the ability to post comments. A website that is long-form, vetted and doesn’t have comments already existsit’s called the New York Times!
Three reasons why blogs should not be considered journalism are:
We will lose the speed advantage. If blogs are considered part of journalism then we should, as a group, add fact checking and proofing to the process. If we add fact checking and proofing to the process then blogs will lose their speed and many will go away because they will not be able to afford the proofing process.
We will lose the freewheeling tone. If blogs become edited they will lose the freewheeling tone that makes them unique. You wouldn’t ask Bob Dylan to write coherent lyrics that fit into established poetic structures, so don’t ask bloggers to fit their missives into existing journalistic structures.
We will lose the ability to learn collectively. We bloggers put ourselves on equal footing with the reader and are humble learners. We print the information we know and we look to our readers to fill in the blanks and contribute. We learn together through discourse and debateit’s not a lecture hall, it’s not an ivory tower.
Now the first thing the other side of the argument will say, and correctly so, is “how do you deal with all the errors?”
There are two ways you deal with the error-prone nature of blogs:
Setting Expectations: As a group we have to set the proper expectation with our readers that blogs are conversations and that we trade some accuracy for a lot of speed. Blogs are like cocktail party conversations, and should be treated as such. If you hear a rumor at a cocktail party, or someone rattles off a bunch of “facts,” you will take those rumors and potential facts, look at the source and the context of the conversation and use them appropriatelyif at all. We need to be clear with our readers about this fact. We should not pretend that we have fact-checking, proofers and footnotes to back us upwe don’t.
Real-time error correction: Obviously this second point directly relates to the first point about setting expectations. We know we’re error prone, we know we report things quickly, and as such we make corrections in real time with the help of our audience. Blogs are so error prone that we have our own device for deal with errors: strikethrough! If an error occurs we use strikethrough to note the error and correct it immediately in the existing article. This is a lot more than any print publication does. Print publications can’t correct like this because they are not real time. Can you imagine if the New York Times reprinted every article with the incorrect facts noted with stickethrough the day after they came outin the same location? That is what blogs do, so we are clearly more responsible than print publications in issuing corrections. We should be because we are more error prone.
Blogs are a truly unique form of communication and let’s not kill them by putting them in the journalism bucket. That is exactly what the traditional media companies want us to do. They want us to play on their court, and we do so at our peril. There is no need for bloggers to compete with the New York Timeswe are different. We complement the traditional media and act as a reality check for it.
People love us because we are know who we arewarts and all. Don’t fight the difference, embrace it.
And to bloggers who become journalists, you should know that you are no longer bloggers. Journalists who become bloggers, you should know you are no longer journalists. Both converts should be happy with their decision and play by the rules of whichever court they choose.
However, let’s not confuse the audience by changing the rules midgame.