Saturday, April 29, 2006

Blogging newspapers - an oxymoron?

Can newspapers embrace blogging? Two interesting posts (post one, post two) on one of Poynter Institute’s weblogs brought up several important points about how mainstream media unsuccessfully go about embracing blogging, open-source journalism, and interactivity. One of the questions raised was whether blogs by newspapers are “real” blogs, and if they are not, what purpose do they serve? Several recent episodes showed just how difficult it may be for traditional media to fully and truly embrace blogging. Or, perhaps even understand what blogging is all about. Take newspapers, for example.

The Washington Post shut down one of its blogs in January 2006, because a post made by the newspaper’s ombudsman excited a lot of partisan furor and personal attacks on her (for background info go here and here). The open-source media experiment failed because the newspaper was uncomfortable with the fact that it could no longer control the discourse on its blog. Then came The Los Angeles Times incident, in which the paper’s columnist was revealed to have posted on the LAT website under a fake name. The author posted controversial statements under a pseudonym (for details go here, here, and here) in violation of paper’s policy.

The LAT and WP cases illustrate how reluctant journalists in general are (of course there are notable exceptions) to engage in a true dialogue with audiences in a transparent manner. By incorporating blogs newspapers seem to be saying: “We value transparency, readers’ involvement, and interactivity. We encourage feedback and value relationships we build online.” But, actually it seems that some newspapers do not really want that. They seem to adopt the new format just to make a fashion statement – not embrace the underlying principles of such format.

For example, real discussion and readers’ involvement would occur only when editors and reporters are fully engaged in conversation, and do not shut down blogs (where discussion went a bit beyond the boundaries of civility). Journalists should not just hide behind posted articles, but be willing to take and respond to criticism, becoming participants in (not controllers of) a conversation and not just sources of a one-way flow of communication (which they were for the most of their history, and which is inadequate in the Internet age). Also, reporters/columnists should not be afraid to talk to their audiences by using their real name. What good is a reporter who is afraid to state his/her name on record? Of course we can think of some reasons to not do that (for example, when reporter’s lives are in danger, or when ability to report may be undermined), but they clearly didn't apply to the LAT situation...

In blogosphere transparency and interactivity are core values. If papers are to use the new media form they should adhere to these two values, or call their “blogs” by some other name – controlled discussion forum, or a frequently updated website, maybe... definitely not a blog. See this insightful post, where media consultant/blogger Jeff Jarvis makes some recommendations about how msm should go about incorporating open-source journalism into their work, to succeed in the 21 century media environment.

Going back to the original question - it seems that in the age of user-control and interconnectivity newspapers have no choice but to embrace blogging. The newspapers and other media organizations that do it right are likely to survive and prosper. The ones that don't do it right will remain stuck in the 19th century journalism mentality and probably won't succeed as much as they could. That is because audiences want real conversation, interaction, and control - not appearance or promises for conversation, interaction, and control.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

New information era - new approach to news

Some cool info is coming to us via BuzzMachine on how BBC is changing its approach to news biz. Giving more control to users characterized media evolution since the development of printing press, and BBC is going to do even more of that now. But, it's not really new. And plans for an increased synergy aren't anything new either...

What is new, however, are the following: revamping searchability of website's content, increasing interactivity between readers and newspeople, opening up the website to user-generated content, and a few other thoughtful things. The post is somewhat long, but worth reading! (See my related post on transformation of media here)

Also, see this update from BuzzMachine on what the "proper role for the BBC as a tax-supported public trust" should be.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

New report on "State of Blogosphere" is out. Verdict: Rapid growth continues.

Technorati offers some interesting info related to the blogosphere's development in the last few months. Some of the findings:
- Technorati now tracks over 35.3 Million blogs
- The blogosphere is doubling in size every 6 months
- It is now over 60 times bigger than it was 3 years ago
- On average, a new weblog is created every second of every day
- 19.4 million bloggers (55%) are still posting 3 months after their blogs are created
- Technorati tracks about 1.2 Million new blog posts each day, about 50,000 per hour

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Now, that's something...

Looks like online form of expression is being recognized more and more by traditional media professionals lately. Some great news come from the Pulitzer organization that has just awarded the first prize in its history to journalism done on the Internet. The staff of The Times-Picayune was recognized for "a distinguished example of local reporting of breaking news, presented in print or online or both" during Katrina hurricane and its aftermath. The coverage of the disaster by this newspaper was trully amazing, considering the conditions on the ground and that the newspaper had to transform itself into primarily an online news outlet, getting some 30 million page hits per day.

It seems that it won't take too long before "pure" bloggers start getting top journalism awards...

Also, if there's any doubt that blogging is increasingly embraced by the msm, hear this extremely thought-provoking lecture by The Guardian's editor Alan Rusbridger and see this list of "The Best Blogging Newspapers in the U.S."

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Journalists, Journalism, News, and Blogs

Below is a brief excerp from the recent research that I conducted with Dr. Gerald Kosicki on how blogosphere transforms news, as well as our understanding of journalism and journalists. Here we summarize results from several reputable and extremely interesting surveys of msm professionals.

...

Three recent surveys demonstrated that journalists extensively used blogs and that the blogosphere impacted how journalists do their work. A 2005 survey of 300 U.S. journalists conducted by the University of Connecticut showed that 83% of television and newspaper journalists used blogs and 55% of these journalists used blogs to support their news-writing activities (The University of Connecticut’s Department of Public Policy, 2005). In another nationwide poll of 673 media owners, editors, producers, and staff reporters, Princeton Survey Research Associates in 2005 found that 20% of journalists read blogs almost every day (The Annenberg Public Policy Center, 2005). Similarly, in June 2005 Euro RSCG Magnet and Columbia University released results of their worldwide poll of 1,202 journalists, which showed that 51% of journalists used weblogs regularly (Euro RSCG Magnet, 2005). More than half (53%) of journalists who used blogs said they did so to find story ideas, 43% used blogs for researching and referencing facts, 36% for finding sources, and 33% for uncovering breaking news or scandals (Euro RSCG Magnet, 2005).

At the same time, the UCONN survey showed that only 13% of surveyed reporters considered bloggers to be journalists and only 11% rated news content found on blogs as excellent or good, while 41% rated it as fair and 32% as poor (The University of Connecticut’s Department of Public Policy, 2005). Similarly 81% of journalists in the Princeton survey said that news bloggers were journalists "to a small extent" (The Annenberg Public Policy Center, 2005) or were not journalists at all. The RSCG study also provided evidence of some disdain expressed by traditional journalists towards blogs. The survey showed that despite the fact that more than half of all journalists used blogs, only 1% of journalists considered blogs to be credible (Euro RSCG Magnet, 2005).

The surveys showed, however, that despite some negative attitude towards the blogosphere, journalists felt that their profession was transforming because of blogs. In the UCONN study, 90% of journalists said that the emergence of blogs impacted the journalism profession at least a little (The University of Connecticut’s Department of Public Policy, 2005). In the Princeton study, 45% of journalists said that bloggers' impact on the quality of news was generally positive, while 38% said it was negative. More specifically, 51% felt that blogosphere made journalists more accountable (The Annenberg Public Policy Center, 2005). The results of the three polls showed that journalists are embracing the idea of blogs as a new medium at least to some degree. The results also provide some support for the argument that the blogosphere has already affected journalists and journalism.
...

Sources:
Euro RSCG Magnet. (2005). Great thoughts: Turning information into knowledge. Retrieved March 3, 2006, from http://www.magnet.com/index.php?s=_thought .
The Annenberg Public Policy Center. (2005). About one American in four considers Rush Limbaugh a journalist, roughly the same share as identity Bob Woodward that way, according to Annenberg Public Policy Center Survey. Retrieved February 25, 2006, from
http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/naes/2005_06_JournalistsSurvey.pdf .
The University of Connecticut’s Department of Public Policy. (2005). National polls of journalists and the American public on First Amendment and the media. Retrieved March 3, 2006, from
http://www.uconn.edu/newsmedia/2005/may05/rel05033.html .

Looking back on Miers, Gannon, CBS, Blair, Lott, Clinton, and others...

For one of my recent research projects I've attempted to document the short but rich hystory of political news blogs. I argue that over time blogs transformed from online "grandma's birthday" diaries into a highly efficient cumulative outlet that is heard by politicians, mainstream media, and public, and capable of swaying public opinion. All the information below came from news reports (NYT and WP primarily), research studies (such as several done by Pew and CBS), and wikipedia. So, here we go:

· Clinton-Lewinsky scandal (Janurary 1998). In 1998, a blogging pioneer, Matt Drudge posted an article on his blog, DrudgeReport.com, in which he claimed that President Bill Clinton had an affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. The Drudge’s blog was widely credited with speeding up the process of making the information about the affair public.

· Aftermath of 9/11 (September 2001). After the worst terrorist attack on the U.S. many Americans turned to blogs to vent, show compassion, or just feel like they are a part of community. Similar to friends sharing stories on the front porch or around a campfire, blogs helped people emotionally reconnect during the period right after the attacks.

· Trent Lott resignation (December 2002). In winter 2002, senator Trent Lott reluctantly resigned from the post of U.S. Senate majority leader. The resignation was a result of Lott’s racially insensitive remarks made at a birthday party of another senator, Strom Thurmond. Mainstream media paid little attention to the comments until blogs turned Lott’s gaffe into a prominent political controversy.

· The New York Times editor (June 2003). Howell Raines was forced to resign from his position of executive editor of The New York Times after a storm created by traditional media as well as blogging professionals. He and newspaper under his leadership were criticized for Jason Blair scandal, Raines management style, for biases exposed by bloggers who posted transcripts of press conferences alongside NYT stories, and other issues.

· Iraq war (March 2003 - present). The war in Iraq, sometimes characterized as the first true Internet war (similar to the first television war - which was the Gulf War I), was extensively covered by soldiers who provided first-hand accounts of ambushes and recon operations, Iraqis who blogged about their daily life from inside Baghdad, or Americans reporters who were determined to provide an unfiltered account of what was actually happening inside the war zone.

· 2004 presidential election (2003 - 2004). In 2004 presidential candidates from both parties paid considerable attention to bloggers, by feeding latest campaign news directly to their sites, buying ad space on blogs, and asking for help raising funds. Perhaps for the first time, political bloggers were officially accredited as members of the press and invited to cover national conventions by both Republicans and Democrats in 2004.

i. CBS documents (September 2004). During the most intense weeks of 2004 presidential election campaign, CBS News president, Andrew Heyward and star-anchor Dan Rather were forced to apologize for airing a misleading report about George W. Bush during a prime-time program. PowerLine.com and other primarily conservative bloggers orchestrated a campaign that turned the issue from a partisan discussion on conspiracy theories into a massive campaign against a major news media organization. As a result, a prominent journalist Dan Rather, as well as several CBS News producers resigned.

ii. CNN executive resignation (September 2004). In the fall of 2004 Easton Jordan, the CNN’s chief news executive resigned because of the contentious claim he made at the off-the-record forum in Switzerland. He alleged that some of the war correspondents were targeted and killed by the U.S. military. The comments may have remained below mainstream media’s radar if it was not for a blogger attending the same forum, who posted the comments on a Forumblog.org.

iii. Film about John Kerry (Fall 2004). Just days before the vote in presidential election of 2004, Sinclair Broadcasting Group planned to run a documentary called “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal,” critical of democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Liberal blogs helped raise the issue to the fore of public discourse, which resulted in the fall of broadcasting company’s stock and subsequent announcement that only portions of the film would be broadcast.

· Indian Ocean tsunami (December 2004). Right after the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami, bloggers from inside and outside of the disaster zone started putting information online about the events, enabled people to connect to one another, as well as launched a massive fundraising effort.

· Jeff Gannon (January 2005). In the early 2005 some bloggers started to raise questions about softball questions asked by Jeff Gannon, a member of the White House press corps. Through an intense research effort, mostly by liberal bloggers, it was uncovered that Gannon was affiliated with pro-Republican organization and was involved in setting up sex-websites.

· Hurricane Katrina (August 2005). In summer 2005 a major hurricane took a direct hit on the Gulf Coast, destroying or significantly damaging several coastal cities including New Orleans. The Times-Picayune, official newspaper of the city had to evacuate and it decided to start a blog, which was constantly updated with information about the events on the ground. Similar to tsunami disaster, hurricane blogs delivered neighborhood-specific accounts of the situation, helped people find out about their loved ones, and orchestrate a fundraising effort. Because many people and news media outlets had to flee the area, they had to turn to the sources of information that could deliver specific and timely information about the disaster zone – Internet and blogs.

· Harriet Miers (October 2005). To some observers it came as a surprise that primarily conservative bloggers were among the most vocal groups pushing for and ultimately succeeding in derailment of Harriet Miers’ nomination to the position of a Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. The bloggers decided to go against their ideological counterparts in the White House mostly because of questions on the nominee’s experience.

To be continued...