Monday, May 05, 2003

Bifurcated Bloggers

There are independent journalists and bloggers, and then there are employed journalist-bloggers. It's beginning to look as though mixing the two animals in one body is going to require a fight.
The blogging revolution, at heart, is really about self-publishing. And self-publishing is a notion fundamentally at odds with traditional journalism--built as it has been on layers of owners and publishers and ad salesmen and editors--in other words, on control. Blogging is all about taking those controls off, plunging into personal takes on the news or events or whatever, none of which passes through external filters like editors who are concerned about the business-side issues and reader/advertiser reactions.
So American journalism is spoiling for a fight over those who blend with the traditional top-down control of journalism. Can both exist in the same person?
The Hartford Courant touched off the latest imbroglio last week by ordering a staff writer to shut down his blog, but there have been others. And there will surely be lots more of these situations in coming weeks and months, as the attractions of blogging become increasingly apparent to more writers even as the technology grows less complex. If you can figure out Microsoft Word, as basically any writer in the world can, you can probably blog on a do-it-yourself basis.
Dan Gillmor of the San Jose Mercury News, stationed in the heart of Silicon Valley, was one of the small handful of blogging trailblazers who also had a staff job at a major daily paper. He seems to have mostly managed without incident. Jim Romanesko famously hunted the web for the best stories of interest to journalists, which he assembled for his Media Gossip weblog before heading into work each morning at the Milwaukee Journal. It wasn't long before his site became the de facto water cooler AND journalism review for much of the American media, with thousands of journalists checking it hourly. The nonprofit Poynter Institute of Florida subsequently paid him $80,000 to migrate his blog over to their larger site, where it now resides as Romanesko's Media News. Some people think he's among the handful of most powerful people in the media, and I'm certainly among them. If your story is linked by Romanesko, thousands will read it, but many of those thousands in turn write for hundreds of thousands. It serves as a foghorn for the business.
A healthy debate on the topic of allowing journalists to blog is now going full-bore. Perhaps the best recent piece is here. The author, J.D. Lasica, has been a pioneer in this area, writing a column on web journalism in the American Journalism Review from the mid-90s on, before heading off to the corporate web side for a few years. Now, you'll find him back on the journalism side, weighing in regularly on perhaps the best site for these issues, Online Journalism Review, edited by the University of Southern California's journalism program.


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