Bloggers vs. Journalists: the meme that will not die

From Jay Rosen’s talk about this topic at SXSW:

If you ask journalists why they chose their profession, they give a range of answers: to see the world, something new every day, I like to write. The most common answer is some variation on: to make the world a better place, to right wrongs and stick up for the little guy. Social justice, in other words. No one ever says, “I went into journalism because I have a passion for being… objective.” Or: “Detachment, that’s my thing. I’m kind of a detached guy, so I figured this would be a good field for me.”

And yet… When they get there, people who always wanted to be journalists and make the world a better place find that the professional codes in place often prevent this [bolding is mine]. It’s hard to fight for justice when you have to master “he said, she said” stories. Voice is something you learn to take out of your work if you want to succeed in the modern newsroom. You are supposed to sacrifice and learn to report the story without attitude or bias creeping in. And then, if you succeed in disciplining yourself, you might one day get a column and earn the right to crusade for justice, to move and convince.

This is a moral hierarchy, which bloggers disrupt. They jump right to voice, which appears to mock all the years of voicelessness that mainstream journalists had suffered through.

And here’s an excerpt from a departed blogger named Steve Gilliard who inspired the work of current Chicago blogger, Driftglass:

Bloggers are not some new creation, but the newest set of the barbarians at the gates. They are the people who don’t trust the system and it’s artifacts. It is to writing, what rap is to music, the coming of democracy to a trade. What [Hunter S.] Thompson and his peers did in the 60’s and 70’s, we do today. But free of the constraints of editors and publishers and the need to hustle up work.




  1. Anonymous March 15, 2011

    Rosen makes some interesting points, but I think he misses one of the big reasons there’s a supposed divide: Hits.

    I work for a news website and recently did a video explaining Cook County property taxes. I worked my butt off on it. I spent about a week and a half of late nights on it, which in online terms is about seven reincarnations. (I’m sure you can figure out who I am, Anna. I’m just being vague enough so no one yells at me for speaking without My Corporate Masters’ say-so.)

    And the video was awesome. It was genuinely good work. A lot of people loved it. Chicagoist even made it their Monday Morning Diversion, embedding the video. The hits for the video on my site were just OK, but I was just proud of the job I did.

    I recently checked Chicagoist again. My video got tons more hits for them than it did for me. Tons more.

    And what can I do? It was done out of love. Sudo congratulated me on a job well done, name-checked my site, linked to it and linked to a previous Chicagoist piece that gave it some nice context. It was perfect blogging.

    It’s just that I worked my butt off and the blog got the hits. That’s annoying. When the system worked perfectly and respectfully, the blog got more of what can be taken to advertisers than I did.

    And when I talk to my buddies who still work in newspapers or my current digital newsroom cohorts, that’s their complaint. Their complaint isn’t the voice issue — they all know they could get a WordPress account and a fake name (some do). And on a local level, there’s not as big a divide as Rosen makes it sound. I blogged for a Chicago-based site while working for a paper in Aurora (I commuted to Aurora from Wicker Park). One of my co-workers there writes a music blog, another a movie review blog. Some old grad school friends are NY magazine editorial types who recently put out a book based on their Tumblr blog. Often, bloggers and journalists are the same people.

    But when your butt is sore from sitting through a four-hour municipal board meeting to hear the 30 seconds of discussion on the hot-button issue or when you’re hacking up yuck from the cold you caught shooting a house fire in January, just to find that the person who linked to your story got more advertiser-luring hits than you did, you sort of start to hate “them.” You even forget that there’s no “them” in the first place.

  2. Anna Tarkov March 15, 2011

    Wow Paul, thanks for the very thoughtful response. I think I know exactly how you feel. It CAN be frustrating to see more play for something on a blog/aggregator than on the originating site, but you have to answer the question of why this happens in order to try to overcome it, if that’s your goal.

    (A side note: the number of views on Chicagoist’s post that’s publicly displayed is likely not the # of pageviews. I’m not 100% sure, but this is often the case with many blogging platforms. For instance, here on Posterous something I post might show up at 2k “views” but Google Analytics will tell me it’s maybe 200 pageviews, if that. If you want to know the true number of pageviews for that post, maybe ask Chuck to tell you. I can almost guarantee it’s lower than the number that’s displayed on the post.)

    Back to why this happens… In this case I think you would agree that Chicagoist has a more well-established audience and a more passionate following than your site does, at least at present. So this is kind of equivalent to a small-town paper breaking a story and a few people read it and then, say, the New York Times writes about the same story and suddenly MANY more people read it. Does it mean that the small-town paper should be angry that NYT is going to get a lot more eyeballs to sell to their advertisers? Maybe the answer is yes, but the bottom line is that the small-town paper and NYT don’t compete on the same level and while the small paper seems outmatched, I bet there are things it can do better than NYT. It needs to find out what those strengths are and build on them.

    The other thing is that maybe someone who lives in that town first read the story in NYT, but let’s say NYT linked back to the small paper’s story in their coverage. The reader in that town might say huh, so my little paper had this news first and look, they even did more extensive coverage on it! If that reader is interested in this kind of news, next time they might look to the small-town paper for it first. They’ll still read NYT perhaps, but they’ll know that hey, this paper really specializes in news about MY town so I should check with them first. The same thing might have happened if a Chicagoist reader who lives in or around Tinley Park saw your video. Or maybe they don’t live there but know someone who does and maybe they will recommended your site to them. None of this will show up in your stats overnight, but it’s the way you build a reputation and an audience. It’s slow, painful and grueling, yes, but there’s just no other way to do it when you’re starting a news brand and a site from scratch. The good news is that it took legacy news brands decades to build their audiences (and that was with very little competition!). You still can’t build a NYT-sized audience easily now, but you CAN still build a respectable one in a fraction of the time that it once took.

    What this also really hits at the heart of is the issue of content creation vs. content promotion.

    Some people/sites/media orgs are really good at creating great content. Some are really good at promoting their content (or the content of others). And then of course there are some which are great at doing both. The trouble is that content promotion takes time and tireless effort. Especially online, it’s extremely hard when the audience’s attention is so fractured. Many news organizations simply don’t have the resources (or worse yet, the desire) to devote even one staff person to work on these efforts. Since I know you’re (in many ways) a one-man shop, I’m sure you don’t have the time to devote to content promotion that you wish you did. And again, you don’t have an established news brand name yet either (though even NYT, WSJ, WaPo, etc. expend considerable efforts on promoting their content and that should tell you how important it is).

    Also, I just mentioned branding. When you say New York Times to someone, they most likely have some sort of strong reaction. Whether it’s positive or negative, they feel they know what NYT means and stands for. Yet many news orgs don’t devote much time or energy to this either. Most publications have some sort of marketing department, but the brand identity is too often muddled, difficult to discern or isn’t aggressively promoted to readers and advertisers. However it’s accomplished, news consumers these days seem to like having a strong sense of exactly what they’re getting from their newspaper/magazine/website. If the publication doesn’t have a strong sense of mission or purpose, readers will be less loyal to it. So my advice to every news org (most especially start-ups and unknowns) is to develop a strong brand identity and try to embody it in every piece of content you put out.

    Hope all if this is enlightening and maybe a little comforting. I’d be happy to continue the discussion if you have anything more to add.

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