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December 11, 2002

Blogs and Journalism

Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things

Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing covers an interesting presentation by Dan Gillmor on the effect that weblogs are having on traditional journalism.

Essentially, he says that journalism is slowly changing from a centralized, broadcast model to a peer-to-peer model. Key quote: "My readers know more than I do."

I think this is interesting, although I see little evidence of it in the local Atlanta media. A big part of why I'm no longer a reporter is that I realized that every story I ever witnessed as a participant (rather than as a writer) subtly missed the point of the event or the topic. I realized I probably wasn't doing a whole lot better job, and it's hard to be committed to doing something poorly.

December 11, 2002 in Weblogs | Permalink

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A big part of why I'm no longer a reporter is that I realized that every story I ever witnessed as a participant (rather than as a writer) subtly missed the point of the event or the topic. I realized I probably wasn't doing a whole lot better job, and it's hard to be committed to doing something poorly.

I'm not sure I get this. You mean when you compared your recollection of the event with the reported version, yours "got it" and the other didn't?

Assuming I did get it right, I think there's the possibility that in many cases the story is written before the reporter shows up: they go to the event in case anything unusual happens and they don't want to be upstaged by a competitor. They can add some observations and details, a la the "establishing shot" in a movie, but they could have gotten the same information from reading the news release and reworking it.

I've read plenty of stories about tech issues that gloss over or omit details and I can never be sure it's the ignorance of the reporter or if they think we won't understand the hard stuff.

I got out of journalism because I lacked the investigative zeal I saw in the really good reporters I worked with. Like you, I saw no joy in being third-rate. These guys would drive over to Tallahassee (5 hours), hang out and report on the legislative sessions, send in their stories from their old TI-99s with the acoustic modem, and still manage to keep a legitimate GPA. Admittedly, a great stack of clips can trump a great GPA so it's not like they were not working toward their goals.

Essentially, he says that journalism is slowly changing from a centralized, broadcast model to a peer-to-peer model. Key quote: "My readers know more than I do."

Journalism as a cottage industry? Why not? Just as we use reviewers as benchmarks (if he hated it, I'll like it, or vice versa), there are more voices to choose from and the switching cost is zero (no newspaper or cable subscription to buy).

I wish more reporters remembered that their readers are experts in areas that they -- the reporters -- are not.

Posted by: paul at Dec 11, 2002 1:27:22 PM

You mean when you compared your recollection of the event with the reported version, yours "got it" and the other didn't?

Essentially, although sometimes it was tech reporting, where the event was more likely a new product or technology.

There seemed to be a string of stories about topics about which I was 'in the know'; some of them on University employee issues, some on tech issues, some on other topics. The stories that got published just didn't understand what I saw as the key issues.

Having worked as a reporter, I knew why this was: You've got about 6-7 hours to get a story. If you've got 2 sources at any point during that time, you tell your editor you'll have the story for the next day's news.

That doesn't leave a lot of time for learning about University governance, or researching compensation trends, or understanding pixie-dust drives, or whatever you're actually writing about.

Note that I am emphatically not suggesting that I was a better reporter, because I had the prespective to see the topic in a "truer" light. I'm saying that on those topics, I had spent the time on the inside it took to understand the issues, so I got the story in a way that the reporter didn't.

The growth of weblogs means that there's a better chance for all the perspectives on an issue to be heard, at least by those interested enough to seek them out.

Posted by: Frank at Dec 12, 2002 10:02:45 PM

There seemed to be a string of stories about topics about which I was 'in the know'; some of them on University employee issues, some on tech issues, some on other topics. The stories that got published just didn't understand what I saw as the key issues.

This is the basis for Steele's Corollary to Torvald's Postulate (given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow): the new law reads "given enough blogs, all issues are shallow." once you let the official positions cancel each other out, you can find stuff from Real People[tm] who are closer to the issues and how they'll be effected by them.

Posted by: paul at Dec 13, 2002 11:50:39 PM