December 17th, 2007

Can Blogs Do Journalism?

by

On the face of it, the question of whether blogs can do journalism is absurd — like asking whether sites published on Vignette can do journalism. A blog, after all, is just a content management system — revolutionary because it made web-native publishing free and easy for anyone — but at the end of the day still just a CMS.

So it would seem the answer to the question is an emphatic YES — IF the blog CMS is used by a journalist. Saul Hansel is one of the “bloggers” for The New York Times Bits blog, and I don’t think anyone would question whether Saul is a journalist, or that lowers his standards when he switches from the New York Times print newspaper to its blog CMS, ergo, blogs CAN do journalism.

To me, the more salient questions is whether the blog platform — which, as a web-native CMS, is more powerfully connected the online content ecosystem — will be used by more journalists. And whether more bloggers will start to do what can fairly be considered journalism. Which of course begs the uber-question of what is journalism.

Last week, I decided to accept one of the dozen daily PR pitches I get and do some interviews of a company’s clients — but with the intent getting past the marketing copy and really drilling down to find a STORY, i.e. an original set of facts that were worthy of being placed in a larger context and REPORTED. I’m still doing that reporting, so we’ll see how well I fair. (Look out for that post soon.)

And it seems that I’m not the only blogger interested in exploring a more journalistic use of the blog platform. Nick Denton set out to hire a journalist to be the new editor of Gawker.com, along with a journalist reporter. Jeff Jarvis called this, tellingly, “going to the bench.”

Here’s how Nick framed the shift towards journalism in his post listing the editor position:

It’s no longer enough to take stories from the New York Times, and add a dash of snark. Gawker needs to break and develop more stories. And the new managing editor will need to hire and manage reporters, as well as bloggers. Gawker.com receives more than 10m pageviews per month. Think of Gawker less as a blog than as a full-blown news site. The right candidate will oversee Gawker’s evolution.

And this from the reporter job listing:

At its most basic, the reporting may at times be little more than value-added blogging: a story in the news, put in context with a quick Nexis search, and deconstructed. At its most elevated, the new Gawker hire may experiment with a new form of reporting, unique to online, in which ideas are floated, appeals made to the readers, and the story assembled over the course of several items, from speculation, and tips from users.

And the qualifications:

  • At least two years of experience as a reporter at a daily or weekly newspaper, covering either crime news, business, or media and culture (yes, a print background is an advantage).
  • Ability to write five short items a day, some one-offs, some to further an ongoing campaign or investigation.
  • A reporter who appreciates the discipline of newspaper traditions, but chafes under them.
  • A natural gossip who loves the story and, even more, the story behind the story.
  • familiarity with blogging software, RSS readers and graphics editing tools a big plus.

What’s most interesting is Denton’s merger and of the “old” and the “new,” his clear intent to develop a web-native form of journalism to distribute on a web-native CMS.

By web-native, by the way, I mean that out of the box most blogging software has:

  • RSS – distributed content is arguably the most fundamental form of web-native publishing
  • Trackbacks – natively connects blogs via automatic links to related posts
  • Permalinks – facilitates and encourages linking, the fundamental way of connecting web content
  • Inline links – believe it or not, many news organizations still use a CMS that makes it difficult to embed links in content
  • Categories/tags – an article can be in multiple “sections” of the publication, not just one
  • Comments – because on the web it’s a “conversation,” don’t you know

Brian Stelter, another New York TImes journalist/blogger, did some original reporting on Gawker’s tilt towards journalism, including interviewing another Gawker Editor:

Maggie Shnayerson, the associate editor of Gawker.com, said the transition from gossip blog to news-oriented site was a natural one. “If you own a business in an industry that changes every minute, you always have to look at what you’re doing,” she said.

Since many news organizations are too busy focusing on the us vs. them polemic with blogs, it makes sense that someone like Nick Denton would have to step into the vacuum — which traditional news organizations so often create in failing to boldly experiment with new forms, because they appear to threaten the old. Well, that experimentation, and the resulting evolution, is going to happen with or without them — but I think journalism would be much better served it happened with them.

Anyone who still thinks that it’s constructive to focus on drawning distinctions between “blogging” and “journalism,” rather than seeing a blog as a platform to evolve the practice of journalism, would be well advised to heed Maggie Shnayerson.

Comments (36 Responses so far)

  1. Hi Scott. Great post.
    Some thoughts:
    1) Journalists (of the old school) and blogs will always have an uneasy relationship because as a journalist (of the old school) you are trained to answer every question you raise. You are trained to deliver a sealed unit ringing with authority. Blogs are open ended. They beg questions, they seek to engage in conversation.
    2) The role of journalists/journalism. I think I agree with the sentiments here. It can’t be about what every one else has easy access too. Every blogger can do press releases. Journalism has to be of the Boeing tail fin variety – ie the bit that is tough to do, that no one else in the web of suppliers can create. I wrote more on this here:
    http://fasterfuture.blogspot.com/2007/12/media-as-interface-between-human-and.html

  2. I would dare say that many bloggers do a better job at journalism than (traditional) journalist themselves. The good bloggers – that are journalistic in nature – often have a much better idea of what’s going on in different industry sectors than those who report for them via traditional mass media.

    This entry makes me think of an opportunity that a community college or larger university could take advantage of. That being the obvious need for a class on journalistic blogging. It could be a crash course in journalistic integrity and teach the basics of story structure and fact gathering. It’s just an idea, but it’s something I might consider taking as a night class.

  3. [...] Karp at Publishing 2.0 says Nick is one of those trying to create a different form of journalism. But the big question is the one posed by a commenter on the Valleywag post: Will [...]

  4. [...] Karp at Publishing 2.0 says Nick is one of those trying to create a different form of journalism. But the big question is the one posed by a commenter on the Valleywag post: Will [...]

  5. Well, Denton’s just proved that the new bosses want to be just like the old bosses–and want to hire only those who’ve got the requisite “professional credentials” so to say. Experience, the ability to make contacts and the old-fashioned “nose for news” now have to have some sort of collegiate seal of approval…..

    And the blogger/journalist debate may continue not because some don’t see blogs as platforms to evolve journalism–rather that there are many journalists (and those who wax philosophically about journalism) who want every eek and sputter on a self-publishing cms to be called journalism. Thing is, a lot of it isn’t.

  6. Excellent post Scott. I’d suggest that the key challenge to conventional journalism is not so much one of quality writing as it is *scalability*. Bloggers work for nothing or peanuts, and there are many more coming in the wings. Many will suck but some will be great, and it will be increasingly difficult for publishers – even cutting edge, well funded ones like Nick, to justify paying much for content. I don’t think his decision to hire a legacy media journalist reflects a new trend, rather it reflects a fairly atypical reversion to old trends. cf the demise of Blognation, which was not even paying the folks. Would they have succeeded with a bunch of “real” journalists? Nope.

  7. [...] work for free WIFI: The New Journalism? Scott Karp has a nice post today about the intersection of journalism and blogging.    I’m glad he [...]

  8. Journalism and blogging have been intersecting for years. I left a daily newspaper seven years ago and have been using blog software to file stories online ever since. Only the publishing medium and technology has changed, as my approach to the research and reporting hasn’t changed. The same is true for many journalists who have been “rightsized” from mainstream media and moved their work to online delivery.

    Some might argue that Denton’s repositioning of Gawker is news because it’s a gossip blog trying to do serious journalism. Guess what? Gossip IS serious to TMZ, which has built a lucrative franchise by applying traditional police reporting techniques to entertainment news. Same goes for The Smoking Gun.

  9. What’s driving this movement toward more journalistic blogging at Gawker and elsewhere? Is Gawker being slammed by celebrities and their PR people for repackaging and publishing rumor, speculation and gossip as news? Is Gawker responding to that criticism by changing its “editorial” mission, to prove to the cranky celebs and PR people that its reporting is credible? Are advertisers driving the shift? Are advertisers sending the message Gawker and others that to increase ad revenue, they need to increase PVs and uniques, and to do that, they need more compelling, more credible, more journalistic content? I don’t know what the answer is, but I would like to find out.

  10. Question: how do you define “journalism”? Are columnists journalists even though most of them don’t do much reporting? I’m not sure bloggers are reporters but they can be journalists.

    Mark

  11. Ultimately the question of whether bloggers can be journalists is irrelevant — and of interest only to journalists.

    Oh yeah. By your definition of journalism, there’s not much journalism being done these days. Television news is almost all painfully derivative and with slashed budgets and staff fewer and fewer reporters have the time or the energy to answer all the questions.

    Even 30 years or so ago when I was an active journalist, most of the work involved was scut work — almost fill-in-the blanks sort of stories about everything from crime (police reports) to city council meetings.

  12. [...] Karp makes a good point in a post today about Nick Denton taking the helm at Gawker again (something I also wrote about [...]

  13. [...] Karp makes a good point in a post today about Nick Denton taking the helm at Gawker again (something I also wrote about [...]

  14. Great post. It’s a good discussion, but I don’t think what Gawker is doing is really innovative. All Things D–published by Dow Jones and edited by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher–is one of a handful of sites that incorporate blogging with good, fact-based journalism.

  15. [...] Scott Karp asks if blogs can do journalism. Try this question. Can journalists do journalism? At best they seem to [...]

  16. A good post, but there’s something that really doesn’t sit well with me in your opening paragraphs. Stating that a blog is “just a content management system” is absurd. Blogger could be called a CMS, as could WordPress and any other blogging platform, but a blog itself is not a CMS. A blog is just a website. Yes, it could be described as being a particular type of website but there is no requirement for a CMS to be behind it.

    It’s like you’re essentially asking, “Can Websites Do Journalism?”

  17. Scott:

    Great musings on the (r)evolution of a big player in the Journalism 2.0 world. Gawker.com must adapt or die, as the saying goes, in a brave, new world full of change and constantly moving targets. I cross-posted on your piece at my blog for the Innovators Network in hopes that some of my readership will visit your sight for more of your opinions and thoughts on 2.0.

    Best wishes for the holidays,

    Anthony Kuhn
    Innovators Network

  18. [...] It is a great question, are bloggers mature enough to do real journalism AKA the NY Times, or the Washington Post. Scott Karp from Publishing 2.0 asks the question, “Can Blogs do Journalism” which they can as a technical platform. The real question is that with the way that bloggers interact with each other, the real question is “should blogs do journalism” or should we keep our own distinct style, voice, and propensity to be wrong, self righteous, or funny and charming. Since many news organizations are too busy focusing on the us vs. them polemic with blogs, it makes sense that someone like Nick Denton would have to step into the vacuum — which traditional news organizations so often create in failing to boldly experiment with new forms, because they appear to threaten the old. Source: Publishing 2.0 [...]

  19. After reading through this article and the comments written by your readers, I’m convinced that blogging is a viable platform or distribution channel for journalism. I’m just not sure why it would be necessary.

    After all, most major newspapers and periodicals offer online content which duplicates or, in some cases, supplements their print material. Online content is, by its nature, fresher, faster and attuned to the moment. The CMS that powers these periodicals already covers most of the functionality built into blogging platforms.

    I can only think of three main reasons why blogs would be used for journalism (or by journalists):

    (1) Some, perhaps many blog readers don’t read newspapers or other periodicals, so this is a way to expand the journalist’s audience.

    (2) The blog offers the journalist an opportunity to build a distinct identity.

    (3) The blog allows the journalist to have editorial control.

    My question: do these three reasons fly in the face of the traditional role of the journalist?

  20. [...] who think the original bastion of new media, the blog, can’t produce hallmark content, the bloggers of the web correctly remind you: “A blog, after all, is just a content management [...]

  21. Blogs und Journalismus…

    Windows vs. Linux ist wie Bloggen vs. Journalismus ein Glaubenskrieg. Die geradezu fanatisch vorgetragenen "Argumente" der jeweiligen Anhänger wirkt auf den Außenstehenden mittlerweile ermüdend. Könnte es sich die…

  22. It seems to me the more salient question in regards to this post is not whether or not blogs have the technical capability to support journalism; rather, it is the issue of an average citizen being able to use the blog platform to blur the lines between journalism and editorial content. An interesting post in a blog similar to yours, The Editorialiste, argues that newspapers and “professional” journalists should accept the rising issue of citizen media, citing an article from the Washington Post:

    http://editorialiste.blogspot.com/2007/11/washington-post-swings-at-citizen.html

  23. [...] “Can Blogs Do Journalism?” (mentioned in the above) [...]

  24. I think most people posting here have had a good swig of the Web 2.0 cool aid.

    A story is a story is a story. It doesn’t matter if you publish it on newsprint or WordPress.

    I’m not a big fan of Gawker, but at least he is trying to steer his site in the right direction. Nick Denton wants his writers to actually REPORT some stories. You know, call people on the phone or ask a question. Or how about this… maybe double check a press release. Which the polar opposite of what most blogs do these days.

    One post got it right. “…one of a handful of sites that incorporate blogging with good, fact-based journalism.”

    Facts have never gotten in the way of a blog.

  25. I wrote a comment on my blog regarding this blogbuzz. The consumer is more informed and knows what they want.

    http://www.erucall.com/archives/96

    To quote many of the conversation I engage with consumers and bloggers.. and I share glimpse of it.

    below…
    [...]I think the public is just tied of being mislead by the circular media. That’s why channels like ‘Current TV’s are popular. Folks just want to hear/read/see news from a different perspective. For example, I can tell that MSNBC tells news from a ‘liberal’ point of view while FOX tells news from a conservative point of view. That’s not how I want my news delivered…[…}

    or
    [...]These are all why I select my news very carefully now. I want the type of news I need to feel my soul. Because if you don’t steer away from the junk from corporations, then before you know it, you start believing that where you come from is stone-age[...]

    We report, you decide…. Right?

  26. [...] Can Blogs Do Journalism?, uma conversa não isenta de equívocos mas aparentemente aí para durar. [...]

  27. I don’t know how anyone could not be excited by the transition of journalism to a more blogging style format. The first movement was off of the newsprint and magazines to the internet, but now with the ‘blogging style’ that the New York Times and others have adopted, it adds two noteworthy elements that were lacking before. Firstly and most obvious, the interactive element that allows authors instant feedback from the masses and the ability to respond almost immediately. Secondly, the dynamic nature of the news being reported can be easily captured through periodic updates and revisions. It is an amazing time to be a journalist with the latest advances of web 2.0 technology.

  28. In some cases bloggers can easily provide far more accurate information than a journalist.

    Any expert in any field who has a blog is probably superior to a journalist at providing accurate information on their topic of expertise. Sure they have their own biases but so do journalists. The days of non-bias journalists are long gone (did they ever truly exist?).

  29. [...] blogs do journalism? December 21, 2007 Great post by Scott Carp over at Publishing 2.0 about Gawker’s search for a real live [...]

  30. [...] In Scott Karp’s overall discussion asking whether blogs can do journalism–I think it’s all the same and chances are techies don’t care anyway–he touches on blogs partially being a function of their Web-native content management systems. Blogs, often delivered via WordPress, have built-in advantages over content management systems such as RSS feeds, comments, trackbacks and inline links. [...]

  31. [...] Can Blogs Do Journalism? – Publishing 2.0 (tags: journalism blogging media CMS) [...]

  32. [...] argued that a blog is just a content management system, which can be used to publish journalism or just about anything else. But as a practical matter, [...]

  33. I agree I think amateur journalism is the way of the future.

  34. Very informative. I recently took an online journalism course at the University of Texas and we looked at Gawker and decided it wasn’t what we as journalism students were trying to do. But if Gawker can use its resources to do real journalism, they’ll probably make a big impact (and hopefully a positive one).

  35. [...] geht. Nachrichtenagenturen, die auf einmal mit der wachsenden Konkurrenz aus user generated news in Blogs, auf Twitter oder Friendfeed konfrontiert sind, versuchen dennoch, ihre alte Funktion als [...]

  36. What an interesting post you’ve written. It’s certainly sparked some great discussion.

    However, as a consumer of media, I think there are some additional qualifications I’d like to see in a journalist blogger than what Gawker is looking for.

    In my dream world, I’d love for blogging journalists, as well as journalists who work in other media, to adhere to the following:

    1) Understand the difference between reporting and writing an editorial. Be upfront about which you are doing.
    2) If what you’re giving me is in print and it’s supposed to be a news story, please use the standard news format. Give me the who, what, where, when, and why in the first paragraph and then tier down. In this way, I can glean the facts quickly or peruse the story at my leisure, depending on what my schedule allows.
    3) Research your topic and get bona fide quotes. Don’t repeat something that’s going around the Internet blog-o-sphere without checking its credibility for yourself.
    4) Always present a counter-source. Even if you’re reporting about your favorite subject — such as your pick of the presidential candidates — give me a taste of what the other side has to say. Present me with options in your story and let me draw my own conclusions.
    5) Watch your language! I’m not referring here to off-color words. I’m talking about not stuffing a story with leading or biased adjectives. Yes, I know that if you work for CNN or Fox TV, you have to do something to catch my attention with your lead. You also have to keep me entertained when repeating the same story over and over again, every hour on the hour. However, as a consumer of journalism, I’m most impressed when you attempt to remain an objective reporter. Yes, I am aware that there is not such thing as perfect objectivity. Even the choice an editor makes about which stories to report is somewhat subjective. Pleases try, however.

    Now, if you’re editorializing and you are honest about the fact that you are editorializing, have at it!!

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