After reading this post from Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times earlier today, I felt compelled to weigh in on the matter of blogging versus what we consider real journalism.
The newspaper industry is one that is close to my heart. I’ve worked in it, and so have members of my family for a long time. A lot of my upbringing is thanks to the newspaper industry.
That said, newspapers have done nothing to help themselves over the years in warding off the internet era and maintaining relevance.
While it is easy for someone on either side of the spectrum (the blogging side, or real journalism side) to criticize the other side, the fact is that if newspapers want to survive they will need to embrace blogging and realize that this is how society gets its information these days. All the pressure is on the newspaper business, while bloggers will continue to pop up everywhere on a daily basis.
What it really comes down to is that bloggers have nothing to lose, while the newspaper business has absolutely everything to lose. By no means is it an even playing field.
In Baker’s post linked at the top of the page, he makes reference to a blogger that recently accused former Mariner Raul Ibanez of steroid use. Besides possibly hurting his image to a slight degree, the blogger came away from this incident relatively unscathed. Most bloggers are unpaid and simply writing as a hobby, which means that the only thing being staked upon their words are reputation and reputation alone. For many bloggers out there, who have little to no reputation to begin with, that means that writing anything is fair game.
For years, society has craved tabloid journalism. It’s why the National Enquirer and other publications of a certain repute line the checkout stands at the supermarket. People want the gossip, want the dirt, and don’t care who gets hurt along the way. It’s that car-crash mentality that we have, the desire to stop and look for blood, damage, or body parts when we drive past an accident on the freeway.
Blogs help feed that craving, and give us unsolicited reports on the news we want without getting caught up in the facts of the matter.
Real journalism, on the other hand, is concerned with getting the facts right, which sometimes makes for a less juicy story, despite the realism.
The way we recreate stories plays a big role in how they sell. If we simply lay out the facts and say, “Here you go” to our readers, it might not be that interesting. People want emotion. They want anger, humor, joy, anything but cardboard. But if we can take the facts and then aggrandize them to a certain degree, building the story to a new level, that makes all the difference in selling an article to the reading audience.
Related to that point is the way that the information is presented to us.
Most readers want to be talked to conversationally, even when they happen to be glancing over a news article. They don’t want to be talked down to, or made to feel inferior by the structure of the writing or the words that are being sent their way. And sometimes, with newspapers, that happens to be the case. There’s a level of pride and ego involved in the composition of prose, and sometimes writers utilize that style and alienate their readers. On the flip side, however, you’ll rarely ever get that from blogs.
I liken it to the way we view school. In school, we are told to read textbooks written by pompous authors that come across as know-it-alls. We then are forced to regurgitate the information from the know-it-all on a test, in exchange for a grade and a ticket into society. When we pass these tests, we often quickly forget the know-it-all’s information, anyways. When we fail, we only remember that the know-it-all was some slick bastard that outsmarted us with his words.
It’s why these days we use the internet, and such sites as Wikipedia to get our reference. It’s why we have a negative view towards “big words” and flowery text. It’s why we’d rather take our chances getting info from a friendly, albeit less-reliable source, than an unfriendly source that happens to know the absolute truth.
There are few of us left who still pick up an actual newspaper off our doorstep each day and read it. For those of us that fit the profile, we don’t necessarily do it for the recency of the news we will read, or even the quality of the information being presented to us. Often, it’s something we do out of comfort, out of familiarity, because we’ve always been doing it, and that’s not something that will translate to a generation of individuals that are more used to logging onto their computers for the day’s news.
The result of blogging is an unfortunate consequence of supply and demand. There are only so many jobs out there that pay people to write, and so aspiring writers have taken the job market into their own hands by creating blogs, and hence earning more revenue off ads than many newspapers have seen in recent years. If anything, the newspaper industry needs to learn from what these basement bloggers are doing to earn money, and mimic it to turn a profit of their own. But again, it goes back to a certain level of pride, and some might say even arrogance, in turning a blind eye towards what the other side is doing.
When newspaper websites first started cropping up 10-15 years ago, I asked my dad why the newspapers were charging subscribers money to get a paper delivered to their door each day, while anyone who had internet access could go online and get the very same info from that very same newspaper for free. He had no answer for me, and now, after a decade has passed, the industry is still looking for answers.
For many of us who want to see the newspaper industry survive, we can’t help them until they help themselves. We can continue subscribing to the paper, but that doesn’t mean that people won’t stop exploiting the free info online. And you can’t blame people for doing it. We all do it. I do it. You’re doing it now by reading this. It’s reality.
The newspaper industry is like any company. It has a structure and a hierarchy that everyone abides by. And while some people inside that company may have views on how to take the company to the top, it is the people who are highest up who must execute the necessary changes to make progress possible. That’s part of the reason why change is hard to come by in the newspaper industry. Many of the people at the top of the pyramid are not ready to embrace a new wave of information mobility, and because of that changes are coming at a snail’s pace.
The worst part about this lack of progress is that it’s not inevitable. Like any industry, newspapers could very easily adapt to maintain relevance but they simply won’t do it. And that’s unfortunate, because it seems like with each passing week we hear about people losing their jobs as a paper shuts down, when the end result could have been prevented. All it takes is a little humility, the willingness to adjust, and leaders capable of paving a path to success.
Sadly, the fact that our government has yet to intervene and bail out the newspaper industry (when car companies, banks, and seemingly everyone else is being helped out) should be an indication of how little people care, and how little regard the industry, itself, has to stay afloat. Like I said, nobody can help the newspaper industry until it attempts to help itself, and that day is nowhere near on the horizon.