Journalism vs Blogging

I haven’t linked to Laura at Pursuing Holiness in some time, but this post regarding Helen Thomas’s comments on blogging got my attention.

Whether one agrees on precisely how much bias there is in media and what the bias is–I happen to think the largest bias is to stupidity–one will surely note the concern that traditional journalists have with blogging and other means of public information exchange.

Now doubtless bloggers do irresponsible and stupid things. People with cell phone cameras get pictures that might not be up to standards. Sometimes people can get the wrong impression. Journalists in the mainstream media point to this sort of thing as a good reason to lament the fading of “real” journalism and the rise of citizen reporting and commentary.

That line runs into a problem. As I like to point out in Bible classes, if you read just one position, it will often sound convincing. Why? Because the author has presented the positive points. You won’t have the full picture until you look at the negative points. Usually I’m illustrating this with presentation of two competing interpretations of a text. After students have heard one, complete with references to well-known, credible interpreters who espouse it, they will be ready to settle down and go on to the next text. Then I present the second (or third or fourth) view, complete with similar references. Now the first view doesn’t look quite a unsullied.

What journalists are trying to do here is to make themselves look good by running down bloggers. There’s plenty of fodder for them to use in this task. The blogosphere will provide you with examples of just about any sort of bad behavior you might find in writing or photography. The problem is that the journalists think that somehow this should make us revert to the default, their default.

But you can also find examples of just about every lousy journalistic practice in the mainstream media as well.

Well, someone objects, but there are less of them. OK, let’s make that assumption for a moment. If the mainstream media misbehaves what do I do? I can complain. I can sue. I can hope that some other media outlet will pick up the other side(s) of the story. But really, I have very little power as an individual reader or viewer.

In the blogosphere I can get my keyboard in position and bat out a piece properly skewering whatever person committed the misbehavior. Does this solve all problems? No, it doesn’t. But if we’re looking for something approaching the ideal, then neither the blogosphere nor mainstream journalism is going to make the grade.

I think there would be a great place in society for journalism–if we had real journalism. But that’s not what our newspapers and media are feeding us.

For example:

  1. There are not just two sides to every issue
  2. If you get a Republican and a Democrat to comment, you have not necessarily covered the field
  3. Not everyone who provides a sound bite is an expert
  4. Reading press releases is not journalism
  5. The value of balance depends on what you’re balancing
  6. Just because a question is rude, doesn’t mean it’s penetrating

… and many more.

If journalists actually sought for information, researched their material, sifted it carefully, and the presented it logically and completely, there would be a point in paying more for it. In such journalism, accuracy of the data would be more important than the reporter’s personal biases. I’m willing to adjust for bias myself, if the information is accurate. As it is, too often news reports are actually less in-depth than blog posts about the same news. At least bloggers know how to read multiple stories on the same topic before they write.

(Note: The material here tracks back through NewsBusters to The Daily Beast, where Lloyd Grove reports on Helen Thomas’s remarks to him.)

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