Many a discussion recently has been held on whether blogs are journalism and their authors journalists. At the same time we hear from our new audio blogging, er podcasting compadres that it was wonderful that Jon Stewart gave the entertainers at Crossfire what for and called their bluff. In less than a half hour Stewart pointed out the problem. The entertainers on Crossfire are no more journalists that most bloggers.
Somewhere along the line it all broke down. There is an aspiration that many bloggers have to be recognized as journalists. They want to be a part of the club, to call the fourth estate home. But journalism is so much more than just telling the story one wants to tell. It's more than a collection of press releases and spun yarns. Dave Winer has been a poster boy for the power of blogs (and there are multitudes of ways in which blogs are very powerful). Those who say blogs aren't journalism often draw out comments on his weblog about how the writer "doesn't get it." Today Winer said:
And Scoble can do his part to help his employer. When I read his glowing reports from O'Reilly events, it's really hard to think of him as a friend. Sylvia Paull, who's helping with BloggerCon, and has been a friend for 20 years, once said this: "I don't go to parties my friends aren't welcome at." This is a good principle, and as good a definition of the spirit of the Web as I've ever heard.
A step back in time
Let's look back at the roots of journalism. Bill Bradlee and Bob Woodward, at their recent talk in Las Vegas, summarized the Watergate "story" in this way. It was 400 stories over 2.5 years.
In no way do I mean to minimize the powerful presence that blogs are becoming in our daily lives. They have left several indelible marks on our country and world. Without them Trent Lot might still be a leader and forged documents on 60 Minutes would have taken far longer to expose. Many incorrect attributions have been corrected by the source and countless views would be unexpressed.
The problem is that with consolidation of media and the corporatization of the news media we've become accepting of getting a few minutes of global news each night and fooling ourselves into believing that we are enlightened members of an enlightened society when in reality we have become consumers of more entertainment programming masquerading as news.
Bradlee and Woodward also pointed out that every one of the more than 400 stories published, and every fact in them, had to have two independent sources. Woodward pointed out that the most valuable part of what Bradlee did was not what he published but what he refused to publish. Journalism is so much more than telling compelling stories. It's doing the legwork and getting the background to make the mundane stories compelling. It's not in the telling of the story you want to tell your friends, it is in the telling of the story that needs to be told. True journalism lies in the careful writing, editing and re-writing to get the story right. Instead of sensational sound-bites (or blog-bites) we the people need real journalism. We need to focus on quality and getting the whole story instead of speed and getting part of the story first.
In the end I agree with Winer that blogs are just as good as today's media. But there should be a much higher goal. Let's make the blogs into a haven for journalists. Instead of debating if we're as good as the system's hacks on TV, let's set a higher standard.