Blogging: Is it a threat, challenge or opportunity for journalism?

Essay Topic: Blogging: Is it a threat, challenge or opportunity for Journalism?

 

Abstract: Blogging is an opportunity for journalists to expand their trade (and influence) from the printed to the online media. It creates two-way communication and provides almost instant feedback to the writer. Quality journalism will always have a place whether on a printed or online platform.

 


 

 

Blogging: Is it a threat, challenge or opportunity for Journalism?

 

Introduction

When looking at the question of whether blogging is a threat to journalism one first needs to ask what many have asked before: is blogging journalism?

 

Without going into the much debated subject into too much detail my short answer for the purposes of this essay is no it is not true journalism as we know it.

 

Or in the words of Agnes Poirier from The Guardian (theguardian.co.uk):

 

To think that blogging is Journalism seems dangerous and certainly misleading. Journalism is a profession, not a hobby. It usually requires research and some care in its execution. I have always thought blogging was a more spontaneous, informal way of feeding (or blocking) debate. Silly at worst, thought-provoking at best. To blog seems a little like to take a shower: the experience is quick, fun and energising and its good effects last but a few hours.

 

Tom Regan (Nieman Reports 2003) believes that “bloggers will need to adopt to some of journalism’s practises that they now eschew, often because of laziness.”

 

Furthermore blogs share a number of generic qualities different to traditional journalism:

 

  • a most-recent-post-top structure
  • a ‘blogroll’ of related sites
  • an often personal or subjective writing style
  • brevity, and related thereto a tendency to link to sources

 

 

History of blogs

At first blogs consisted mainly of lists of links to similar sites (this ‘blogroll’ element is still to be seen in blog systems and templates today).

 

Blog posts – before the launch of free content management systems such as Pitas, Blogger and Groksoup – mostly hinged around a single link. After the technological barriers of entry were removed through the development of easy to manage software, blogs exploded. New technologies since have seen blogs encroaching (some would say) towards journalism.

 

11 years of blogging

The month of July 2008 marks the 11th year of blogging. And how blogging has grown.

 

Figures from 2007 counted more than 70 million blogs covering almost any conceivable topic (thestar.com).

 

Every day more than 120,000 new blogs are created and 1.5 million new posts are published (this converts to about 17 posts per second). A new “media” breed has emerged.

 

Many have argued that blogs will replace traditional journalism, driven by a wave of citizen-run media. On the other hand critics have argued that such “amateurs” lower the quality and integrity of journalism.

 

Both are wrong, says Eaves and Owen (thestar.com).

 

They argue that blogging is not a substitute for journalism.

If anything, this past decade shows that blogging and journalism are symbiotic – to the benefit of everyone.

 

Blogging they say is not displacing traditional journalism. Journalism has certain sets of norms and is structured in a certain way. The same can not be said of blogging – although blogging has certain unique properties (as stated above) it has very little (if any) norms.

 

“The industry once thought that blogging would somehow replace journalism. It turns out the threat to journalism is something bigger,” writes Chris Lau (blogs.itworldcanada.com). He concurs that there are unique values to blogging. The unique value, he says, is virtual interaction. “The interaction from readers through comments has generated further discussions. Blogging is therefore a modernised version of group message forums, but without moderator intervention or fixed subjects.”

 

Lau rather believes Google, to be the real threat to journalism. Google is valued far greater than some major newspaper companies in the U.S. They provide “content” without having paid anything. Profits are reached when revenue through advertising exceeds the cost of providing content. When the cost of content is zero, someone has to pay and the companies that bear the cost are those companies who pay their journalists. 

 

Dana Blankenhorn (danablankenhorn.com) agrees on the subject of links. “It’s the giving of links that makes blogging so dangerous to journalism.  The room with the most exits wins by letting in the most light.”

 

Adding links have enormous value. “It’s by sending traffic out that you get traffic in.”

 

Not all journalism organisations subscribe to this principle, though. Some hide their content behind subscription firewalls. Traditionalists still see their readers as receiving content without playing any role. They see their readers as passive.

 

The key to winning on the Web is interacting, says Blankenhorn. “It lies in linking out to every resource available, no matter who holds it. It means turning each story into a conversation. It means looking for ways to make living in your community easier.”

 

Looking at blogs from a different perspective is David Eaves and Taylor Owen.

They compare books as an established medium to journalism. Books they say enable various practices, such as fiction, poetry, science and sometimes journalism, to be disseminated. Books however do not pose a threat to journalism. To the contrary, books, like blogs, increase interest in the subjects they cover and in this way promote further media consumption.

 

“The same market forces that apply to books and newspapers apply to blogs”.

 

Similar to the way readers judge and elect what to read, they do with blogs. Does it inform, is it well researched and does it add value and is it from a credible source?

 

Because blogs are relatively easy to set up and costs nothing or very little, there will always be many of them. Herein lie the challenge: how does one differentiate and keep the readers’ interests among so many of them?

 

“Ultimately blogs, like books, don’t replace journalism; they simply provide another medium for its dissemination and consumption,” says Eaves and Owen.

 

Quality of blogs

Proponents of traditional media rightly criticises the often dubious quality of blogs. Rightly so, but with more than 70 million blogs around is it at all surprising? The same can be said of printed media – not all printed media are created equal either.

 

As with printed media, users have a choice. Users on the web can eliminate very quickly, connect and find what they are looking for in seconds – this includes high-quality writing on any subject.

 

Technology expert Paul Graham (paulgraham.com) argues: “Those in the print media who dismiss online writing because of its low average quality miss the point. No one reads the average blog.”

 

As more writers (including journalists) and citizens try blogging, the range and quantity of high-quality blogs increases all the time.

 

The number of blogs double every 300 days. Therefore although some may argue that the situation is going to get much worse, it will also improve vastly.

 

And this past decade should serve as a good guide. Contrary to the predictions of both champions and sceptics, blogging has neither displaced nor debased the practice of journalism. If anything, it has made journalism more accurate, democratic and widely read.

Scott Rosenburg (wordyard.com) believes bloggers and journalists can learn from each other.  Bloggers can teach the pros:

*How to blur the line between personal and the professional – creatively    *How to improvise in real time
*How to have a conversation with the people formerly known as
readers
*How to be humble –- you don’t know everything!

What bloggers can learn from traditional journalists:
*The value of legwork
*The nature of accountability
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

*The positive aspects of editing
*How to be humble –- you don’t know everything!

Open source threat

Prof Alfred Hermida is an online news pioneer, digital media scholar and journalism educator. He leads the multiplatform journalism programme at the graduate School of Journalism of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada and believes that blogging’s threat to journalism is an open source threat.

Just as open source software threatens proprietary software. Just as open spectrum threatens the wireless monopolies. Just as network neutrality threatens the phone companies.

“Open source is not just a business model,” says he. “It’s not just a way to distribute software”.

It’s a political philosophy. And it’s going to roll over everyone and everything that stands in its way. Because it works. It grows the economy, it adds to knowledge, it distributes knowledge, and it makes those who use it more competitive.”

The case of blogs vs. journalism

One can cite commercial interests as the defining element separating amateurism from professionalism. Professional journalism is a commercialised entity that is required to make show profits.

 

 

It is a business and is run among business lines. In order to do this it must either attract very large audiences, or relatively affluent ones that are attractive to advertisers or willing to pay high cover prices.

 

 

It must minimise costs which means that newsgathering is generally formalised and run among bureaucratised lines.

 

Herman (2005) cites five conditions which information must fulfil before it becomes commercial news:

§         the size, ownership and profit orientation of news operations

§         the dominance of advertising

§         dependence on ‘official sources’

§         attempts at control and

§         ideological pressures.

Almost none of these pressures apply to blogs. Most journalism blogs are usually written by one person. This person’s primary aim is not to make a profit from their blogging. Advertising, if any exists, is usually sold through a third party such as Google AdSense, and the person is rarely dependent on the revenues generated from that.

But this state of affairs is changing:

“Increasingly blogs are motivated by money because successful blogging now takes more and more time. You have to write, design, answer emails, do SEO work, comment on other blogs, release ebooks etc. As a result the profit motive is slowly creeping in. Most bloggers are not willing to do this all for free. It will be interesting to see how blogs develop in the future,” writes John@ScibbleSheet on onlinejournalism.blog.com. The owner of the blog, Paul Bradshaw, agrees: “I think bloggers have been changing their work practices as they become more popular, and wish to improve what they do, and this means they have to seek ways of funding them to spend more time on it.”

 

What to do

How do traditional media face the blog challenge? By allowing for interaction.

 

 

Media companies must create an infrastructure which enables active participation and allows consumers to not only read the news but also share in it’s creation through citizen journalism or feedback on articles. This new form of connection between media and consumer is called ‘social media’ and the value to media companies is now the infrastructure, or social entity created to facilitate interaction, not the physical newspaper or news broadcast (Bowman & Willis, 2005)

The first step is to adopt a new business model. Riley (2005) suggests that this new model must create a way for the industry to produce quality journalism, with a profit, in the digital world. If journalism is to exist, as we know it, media enterprises must find a model that uses the internet to add value to their organization.

Riley (2006) illustrates some of the key principles (for newspapers) that must be adopted in shaping the future of online print. Although no one model will work for all companies, these guiding principles will help make the transition from print to online more beneficial. Riley suggests the following:

Adopt a new way of Thinking

There must be a switch from monologue type news to a more interactive conversation with their consumers. In traditional news, the control resided in the industry. With the introduction of Web 2.0 individuals now have a power to create and publish their own stories.

Don’t neglect one to the expense of the other

The transformation to online requires time and energy. This is therefore a good time to refresh the print side as well. The new business model that is to be adopted should include both online and offline. If the online presence is to have community news, then this should be emulated in print as well. This will create loyalty, and brand identity.

 

 

Be experimental

One advantage of the internet is that costs are relatively low. Therefore media can experiment and loose less if the experiment fails. The internet is about innovation and developing new strategies.

 

Managers need to realize that in order to remain profitable, they must transform their existing business model to one that incorporates new technologies and new revenue streams. Bowman and Willis (2005) point out that most managers of traditional media sources are not yet willing to except such principles, and this will lead to their demise.

 

In the traditional business model, value was created by the delivery of information. This can no longer be the way to think of value, and to survive, one must understand that the “value will come from creating an infrastructure for citizen participation and nurturing communities” (Bowman and Willis, 2005).

 

A sure way to create value is to use online news media, not simple as a copy of print (or so called shovelware) but as a complementary product to the original media source.

 

Organisations that simply put print online are not creating new value to consumers. By using online media as a complementary product, the organisation can create customer loyalty and assure brand recognition is being created both online and offline (Carlson, 2005).

 

Sambrook, the director of the BBC, states that value has been created, not by owning the news, but by “making connections with and between different audiences.” (Bowman & Willis, 2005).

 

 

 

Boynton (2000: 29) suggests there will be further blurring between the mediums but that online journalism will supplement traditional mediums rather than replace them.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Conclusion

Already print media are adding value to their existing offering in the form of additional lifestyle, sport, health, business and other supplements.

 

Most offer newsletters with news that broke after the print deadline. Others offer newsletters with breaking news. Many are finding ways to integrate the printed and electronic version. The mainstream South African media is well prepared for the challenges ahead.

 

In my view newspapers have adopted well to the “blogging” threat and are standing strong.

 

And finally here’s something to think about:

Brayden Simms wrote for The Miami Herald’s Heavy Thrifting, a column about saving money, when recently the newspaper decided to take a tip on saving money and laid him (and many other employees) off.

 

But what’s a little ironic is how The Miami Herald is actually paying him to blog … about how he’s been laid off by The Miami Herald!

 


 

Bibliography

http://www.danablankenhorn.com/2006/04/why_blogs_are_a.html

Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 24/06/08

http://www.eaves.ca.

Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 24/06/08

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/mar/21/blogisnotjournalism

Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 21/06/08

http://www.hypergene.net/blog/weblog.php?id=P327! – 49k

Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 20/06/08

http://www.miamiherald.com/136/story/579002.html

Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 22/06/08

http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reports/03-3NRfall/68-70V57N3.pdf

Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 24/06/08

http://onlinejournalismblog.com/2007/10/24/blogs-and-investigative-journalism-draft-first-section/

Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 23/06/08

http://www.oxblog.com.

Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 20/06/08

http://reportr.net/2008/01/11/why-blogs-should-play-a-role-in-journalism/

Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 21/06/08

http://blogs.salon.com/0000014/2004/11/16.html#a772

Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 20/06/08

http://www.taylorowen.com

Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 20/06/08

http://www.thestar.com/article/241165

Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 20/06/08

http://www.wordyard.com

Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 21/06/08

 

References

Boynton, R. “New Media May Be Old Media’s Savior” Columbia Journalism Review, vol.39. 2000

Briggs, M. How to blog in Journalism 2.0. How to survive and thrive. 2007

Deuze, M. Understanding the impact of the internet: On new media professionalism, mindsets and buzzwords.

Fidler,Roger F. The death of newspapers and other myths. Paper presented at the Interactive Newspaper Conference, Houston. 1997

Gilmor,D. “The gates come down” in We The Media. 2004

Negroponte, Nicolas. Being Digital. Coronet Books, Hooder and Stoughton. 1995

Matheson, D. Weblogs and the epistemology of the news: Some trends in online journalism. 2004

Regan Tom. Weblogs Threaten and Inform Traditional Journalism. Nieman Reports. Fall 2003.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

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