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.


Post a Comment

<< Home