rearranging the chairs on the news titanic | [ weird things ]

rearranging the chairs on the news titanic

Newspapers are still on the warpath against bloggers and it's not working out for them.
newspaper on fire

One would think that after more than a decade since blogs have come online, and about six years since they were first incorporated into entire networks and added to mainstream news sites, the animosity between old and new media would be gone, and the ye olde stereotype of a blogger as someone with too much free time pounding out manifestos from his parents’ basement in his underwear, would be firmly put to rest. But a very recent post and SXSW talk by the former chair of NYU’s journalism program, Jay Rosen, shows that the rivalry between professional journalists and bloggers is alive and well. And not only do newspaper editors still see bloggers as little more than amateurs with too much free time on their hands, utterly incapable of doing basic research and far too opinionated to be trusted, but they won’t hesitate to let their readers know just what they think of bloggers in general. From the sidelines, it looks like the editors are puffing out their chests and trying desperately to make sure that everyone they can reach knows that they’re big shot professionals you need to trust for your news fix, rather than the nerds in their mom’s basements. And you know what? They’re wrong.

First and foremost, when it comes to old media’s journalistic standards, we could pretty safely say that they’ve plunged rather low. This is why the news today are infested with pundits, partisan agitators, and inaccuracies for the sake of page views, partisanship, and sensationalism. Today, the old media is pushing what sells on the web rather than what’s true or correct. Sure, there are still writers who investigate and research a story for months before publishing vast, detailed, and extremely thorough articles. And yes, those writers should be applauded and encouraged to keep going. But the sad truth is that now, such writers are in the minority since content is worth less than ever and few publications can afford to keep them on staff. Instead, they either pay freelancers to break whatever they deem exciting news first, or to aggregate content from wire news, internet gossip, or bloggers who wrote something that catches their eye. For gross examples of inaccuracy and total negligence of journalistic responsibility, just look at science news today. We’re inundated with sensational or wildly inaccurate claims presented as legitimate scientific news and it’s usually up to science bloggers to get the initial hype under control and show why the particular claim is either exaggerated, unsubstantiated, or just plain made up to get views. Remember the highly responsible and thorough Climategate coverage in which most media outlets simply parroted denialist claims and had to publish a stream of retractions after all the researchers were cleared by independent investigators? Only, of course, the retractions weren’t billed as a front page news item because they’d have to admit they did no research on the story.

Secondly, it’s awfully hard to take newspaper editors’ claims that bloggers are just amateurs with a lot of time on their hands and nothing better to do when those very same editors have blogs of their own. Don’t they have some immensely important story to investigate instead of making a blog post about how much better then all those bloggers they are at reporting the news? Of course these blogging editors are using their blogs to give their readers a very unflattering picture of bloggers in general and state how impossible they are to replace by some of those random, unruly, unprofessional, childish bloggers. You know, the ones who probably just got a few million hits by pointing out something their papers either got wrong or exaggerated and backed this up by a cascade of links to actual data. So rather than seeing the blogger/journalist rivalry as condescension on the part of the editors, we should really be viewing it as a desperate plea for attention and views. They’ve noticed that blogging is an easy medium in which to inform and entertain, and that there are amateurs who are pretty good at doing it, and making some cash while they’re at it. This used to be the old media’s job and the editors just can’t seem to adjust. Instead of trying to get bloggers to submit content to them and capitalize on blogs in general, they decided to portray themselves as the bastions of truth and accuracy while trying to stomp on the people they insist on seeing as competition. But, as Rosen has noticed and highlighted in his post, bloggers feed off the old media’s mistakes and op-eds, while journalists get inspiration for stories from the web. It’s a symbiotic relationship rather than a competitive one, and the real issue here is money.

That brings us to our third point. Bloggers don’t make much and they’ve come to terms with that. They very rarely have a staff to support and generally hold down full time jobs to provide for their needs. Whatever they’ll actually make is just a little bonus rather than rent money. And when it comes to expert bloggers whose focus is on technical or scientific topics, keeping active blogs is a resume builder, which gives them an incentive to keep doing it even if they’re not making a dime on it. Newspapers, on the other hand, have to pay hundreds if not thousands of people, some of them scattered around the world to get the drop on an international story as soon as it breaks. They’re vast and expensive operations trying to survive at a time when their content is worth almost nothing to the casual reader. Ad revenue doesn’t bring in enough cash to cover the expenses and just about every scheme for charging users to access their stories has been a bust. Indignantly blasting bloggers is pretty much all they have left, hoping that somehow, that will get them more views. But today, with more and more readers getting to their stories via search engines, social media tools, and blog entries citing them as a source, all these appeals do absolutely nothing except cast them as frozen in time and unable to understand that the world is moving on, that newspapers are a thing of the past, and the news industry is no longer nearly as profitable or as glamorous as it once was. Like I said, old media ranting about those uppity bloggers isn’t editorial arrogance, but editorial impotence as a century old business model enters its twilight years…

# tech // blogger / blogging / journalism / mass media

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