What is that bee doing with his nose buried in that flower? If you remember your elementary school science class, you’ll know the bee is either pollinating this flower or gathering pollen from it to take to another flower. Though there are other ways for flowers to get pollinated (such as wind), bees and other insect or bird pollinators are crucial to the process.
Now, the bees, they don’t make the pollen. Everyone knows that. The flowers make it. But the bees, they take it and carry it around to all the areas it needs to go in order to keep the flowers blooming and thriving.
Do the flowers ever get upset with the bees for doing this? Do they ever get annoyed that the next flower the bee stops at to deposit the pollen won’t know where that pollen originated? Not to my knowledge. I believe even if flowers could talk and if they had feelings, they still wouldn’t be irritated with the bees. No, I think they would be somewhat grateful actually. The bees are helping their pollen spread further. They can still be secure in the knowledge that they make the pollen, to say nothing of the fact that they’re the pretty and colorful ones and get all the attention from passer-bys while the bees get swatted away.
Simon Dumenco doesn’t go in for any of this type of thinking though. He seems to think that the bees are doing more harm than good:
But we’re all so busy playing a game of bloggy, social-media-enabled telephone that we’re forgetting the primary sources — the dwindling number of journalistic organizations left on the world stage that do actual, honest-to-God reporting — of “news.”
You’ve probably guessed by now that the bees are bloggers and the flowers are journalists, specifically those who produce original news content.
There was of course a time when bloggers didn’t exist and journalists got on just fine without them. But, and this should be obvious to everyone, times have changed. There are so many more places for news consumers to get their information. There are so many more platforms. There are so many more voices. In order to be heard above the din, one needs to have authority, reader loyalty, reach and much more. How does one acquire these things in an environment where it is increasingly difficult to do so?
Some of the methods are simple. If you are lucky enough to work for the New York Times, CNN or another major new outlet, you automatically have a larger microphone than, say, someone at a small, regional newspaper in Kentucky. Also, if you work for the New York Times, your newsroom is likely equipped with greater resources and better technology to make sure your work spreads as widely as possible. If you’ve held a prominent position in politics, business or another field, your words are more likely to be listened to closely, whether you write them online or say them on cable TV. There are other methods. But just like the flowers whose pollen will still spread without the help of bees, none of them are quite enough.
The final and vital piece in the current news ecosystem is precisely that social-media-enabled telephone that Dumenco derides. Producing powerful, original content is well and good, but is it capturing the attention of a wide audience? After all, if an act of journalism is committed and no one is around to read it, did it really happen? Bloggers and other who are heavily engaged in social media act as a crucial link to the wider public, just like the bees are a crucial link for the flowers’ pollen.
Bloggers, through the act of linking to the content they choose, are shining a spotlight on that content and saying HEY, this is good stuff. Read it. Pay attention to it. The same happens when someone posts a story on Facebook or Twitter or anywhere else. Incidentally, this is the evolution of a behavior that has always existed, even pre-Internet. Surely even before the founders of Twitter were a glimmer in their parents’ eyes, people told a friend or neighbor about something they read in the paper or saw on a TV news report. Surely someone cut out a magazine article and sent it to their sister or niece or friend in another state. Blogging, tweeting and all the rest of it is simply the modern version of a perfectly natural desire to share with and inform those around us. You would think journalists of all people would be sensitive to this instinct since they’ve made it into their life’s work.
Further, I can’t imagine someone at the New York Times chiding a reader who e-mails an article to her friend for not putting it in context, for being reactionary or anything else of the sort. But Dumenco throws these barbs at bloggers with impunity:
Dependable, in-depth, big-picture journalism — as opposed to the reactionary, piecemeal, out-of-context “aggregation” practiced by way too many bloggers — is an increasingly rare and precious commodity.
If the difference between that lone woman and a blogger is that the latter is attempting to gain notoriety or an income through their reactionary, context-free ramblings, they are also more worthy of both because they expend a great deal of effort on what they do whilst the sending of a few e-mails isn’t exactly a major committment.
All that said, remember how I said that journalists must have authority, audience loyalty and reach to be relevant? Guess what, bloggers need to do the same! Only it’s considerably more difficult, because they are often starting from less than zero while even a journalist at a small community newspaper starts the race with more in the authority bank. Despite whatever wild scenarios Mr. Dumenco or others may imagine, people still trust traditional media sources more than most bloggers.
I haven’t even mentioned the ridiculous (and oft repeated mantra) that “real” journalists are those that risk their lives on a daily basis unlike the unwashed hordes of bloggers:
It’s actually the Times that deploys journalists around the world at mind-boggling expense — journalists who literally put their lives on the line every day — to report from the front lines. It’s actually the Times that had four of its journalists — Lynsey Addario, Stephen Farrell, Tyler Hicks and Anthony Shadid — abducted in Ajdabiya and held for six days.
Excuse me, but when was the last time any columnist risked her life in the commission of her duty? How about those folks writing personal finance or gardening columns? Even on the more contentious and high-stakes beats like environmental or political reporting, I’m guessing there aren’t a lot of risks of bodily harm. To my knowledge, no one has ever tried to abduct or shoot at a reporter attending a gas company’s press conference or one sitting in the viewing gallery at the local state capital or city hall. Please Mr. Dumenco (and everyone else belaboring this point): spare us. If your only justification for charging for content is that you’re risking your life to get it, you’ve got bigger problems than Cory Doctorow or any other blogger. By that logic, should we should only pay for or value the work that might get a journalist killed?
Speaking of Mr. Doctorow, Mr. Dumenco seems quite put out that he was quoted so much with regard to the NYT impending paywall. Hmm, quoted a lot, read by many… does this sound familiar to anyone? Does this sound perhaps like someone who works for the New York Times? Perhaps a Maureen Dowd or a Paul Krugman or a David Brooks? Now, how did those folks all achieve such a high level of authority?
I think they did it by consistently providing content their readers liked, appreciated and shared with others. I think they did it by presenting their ideas in a compelling way. I think working at the New York Times doesn’t hurt either. Mr. Doctorow did all the same things and writing for Boing Boing doesn’t hurt in the very same way. I can assure Mr. Dumenco that when I write something, I’m not quoted all over the place; at least not so much that it would catch his attention. Cory Doctorow is. What separates us? Well, the same thing separates me from Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd. Cory Doctorow has earned his authority and as much as it may pain Mr. Dumenco to admit it, the bestowal of that authority is no more suspect or dubious than the bestowal of authority on a Ms. Dowd or a Mr. Brooks.
To bring this back to the bee analogy, most outside observers would likely look at the bee as a necessary part of the flower’s ecosystem. They can, and indeed must, coexist happily together. But Mr. Dumenco and, to be fair, quite a number of “serious journalists” are not inclined to view bees i.e. bloggers this way. They view them instead as parasites and as long as this is the prevailing mindset, we are stuck, mired and cannot move forward and create a more vibrant press for the benefit of all.