Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Difference Between Journalism and Blogging

In the lastest (two days late) copy of the Church Times, Andrew Brown makes the distinction between blogging and journalism. He said:

This [article] is a long way round to the difference between journalism and the blogosphere. But it gets to an important point in the end, which is that newspapers, however loathsome we often are, are slightly more restrained than “citizen journalists”. This is not always or often because we are nicer or nobler. It is probably because we are big enough to be worth suing. The fear of retribution keeps us honest as often as it compels us to dishonesty — perhaps more often. It also shows, I hope, the use of specialist and background knowledge, which is exactly what the average newspaper reader lacks on any subject. Nothing can be as misleading as a true fact on its own. 

This gave me cause to stop and think about what this thing is that we do - and that Mr Brown has made this assertion suggests that there are those who could confuse blogging with journalism in the classical sense. To me, it seems a statement of the obvious that one is not the other - but in the interests of calm balance, have reflected on that. 

In my own writings, a healthy sense of self-preservation precedes every key press. I try to be restrained, be careful of absolute statements about individuals that I cannot underwrite with proof, of making dubious claims (other than in conspicuous jest), and so on. This is partly because in the next 18 months I will be seeking new work and this blog will almost certainly be an invisible entry upon my application forms, and also partly to do with the ever present acknowledgement that once I press 'Publish', I can be quoted and pursued by anyone whom I may slight. Andrew Brown is, of course right, that individuals are not really worth the efforts of litigation - but that should also remind us that we are not immune to it. 

Blogging is refreshingly free, innately exposing of the blogger, and as Andrew Brown rightly states, unrestrained. The media of mainstream journalism have all been tempered by litigation, and so much scar tissue will bring restraint. They also have a job to do which blogs do not. They have to deliver stories that are broadly as-yet-undelivered. Blogs make their comments, speculate a little, draw conclusions perhaps. Those stories have to be researched to a greater or lesser extent in the mainstream media - for quality if nothing else. Blog posts are more instinctive, more reactive, and because they are written in homes largely by private individuals, lack any kind of raw sourcing. - other than in the case of stories at the micro-level. In short, and in line with what Mr Brown implies, blogs lack 'specialist and background knowledge' on the whole. Naturally, this is not a universal statement for all blogs - just the vast majority.

The thing that I hold in my thoughts is what does the reader seek? Readers who want to know about the events in Afghanistan will take those accounts from the newspapers or the television. If they want a comment about those events, an opinion, an angle perhaps, then they may refer to blogs. There are rare exceptions of course - but I have yet to discover the 'scoop' in a blog post.

I think that the difference between blogger and the mainstream journalist is the place in the pecking order that their material takes. Mainstream media will crack the nut having established that it is indeed a (or having invented the) nut, and bloggers will spend the time talking about what is inside its shell. This may one day change, we'll see.

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