Jay Rosen of PressThink just posted an excellent open post regarding his SXSW presentation on the conflict between bloggers and journalists. As Rosen states in his piece, many regard this as a tired theme. In fact, Rosen’s current post mentions his 2005 essay on the end of the argument: “Bloggers v. Journalists is Over.” Six years later it’s clear this isn’t the case. I draw that conclusion not only from Rosen’s piece, but from the research I conducted on new media for my undergraduate thesis and my own experience as a blogger and journalist.
Allow me to repeat that: I am a blogger, and I am a journalist. And I see no contradiction inherent in claiming both because I see them as intertwined pursuits. That’s not always the case for bloggers; you can blog about quite literally anything and there is no set of professional standards for bloggers, though attempts at creating one have been made (Jonathan Dube’s “Blogging Code of Ethics” is an example). Lack of professional oversight is both boon and curse to the blogosphere because it means that accessibility is universal. You don’t need to go to school to be a blogger. You don’t need an internship, though blogging internships do exist, or an apprenticeship, or professional experience of any kind. This has its benefits. Professional journalism thrives off privilege: privilege of class, privilege of gender, and privilege even of press freedom. It remains a male-dominated field. If you had any doubt of that I remind you of Nir Rosen’s response to Lara Logan’s tragic assault. It’s a classist field. It requires money to get a degree in a relevant subject, and it requires even more money to take undertake an internship or apprenticeship in journalism that is likely unpaid. And if you live under an oppressive regime, professional oversight equals repressive censorship.
Blogging bypasses those elements of privilege. The drawback is that no standard of quality exists for bloggers. Therein lies the major complaint of many journalists. Rosen quotes Jeremy Peters, a reporter for the New York Times, decrying bloggers’ failure to adhere to the reporting guidelines set forth by the White House during a day of policy briefings. “Some of the bloggers apparently felt unbound by the rules,” he wrote, with the snide implication that a venerable institution like the New York Times would never be so lax in its attention to the high standards of professional journalism. Jayson Blair and Zachary Kouwe might beg to differ. Rosen also quotes the BBC’s Andrew Marr’s unflattering description of bloggers as “socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy young men sitting in their mothers’ basements and ranting.” As I am not pimpled, seedy, single or even male (socially inadequate is, I suppose, a matter of personal opinion) I can only marvel at Marr’s broad and insulting portrayal, then point him toward a six year old article by Richard Posner. In a 2005 piece for the New York Times, Richard Posner declared that “the latest, and perhaps gravest, challenge to the journalism establishment is the blog.” The reason, Posner wrote, is not that bloggers lower the standards of journalism. The concern is economical, and the preservation of professional pride: “Having no advertisers (though this is changing), he has no reason to pull his punches. And not needing a large circulation to cover costs, he can target a segment of the reading public much narrower than a newspaper or a television news channel could aim for. He may even be able to pry that segment away from the conventional media. Blogs pick off the mainstream media’s customers one by one, as it were.”
As long as mainstream journalism is perceived as biased and incompetent, the popularity of blogging will climb. It is difficult to defend the journalism industry when American news outlets focus on entertainment and human interest stories, preferring the tragicomic decline of Charlie Sheen to the civil war in Libya. The activism of bloggers fueled much of the coverage of the recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. During the riots, bloggers were as much at risk as journalists. That trend is not merely contained to the most recent unrest. They are subjected to censorship, like journalists, and they are arrested and sometimes executed, just like journalists. Internationally, journalists simply don’t have the grounds to belittle bloggers. They get the scoops and they suffer for that, no professional credential required.
That applies domestically as well. The Ohio media has not failed to report on the existence of anti-choice legislation. The antics of Rep. Lynn Wachtmann and Janet Folger Porter, which I covered in my previous post, have not escaped the media’s notice. The fact that men and women have organized to resist those antics has, however. I am the author of one of only two articles in the entire state of Ohio that mentioned even the existence of a highly attended Walk for Choice in Columbus two weeks ago. Walk participants far outnumbered participants in a MoveOn rally against the Ohio GOP’s attempts at union busting, but only the MoveOn rally received front page attention in the Columbus Dispatch.
That’s unacceptable. It’s equally unacceptable that mainstream outlets have ignored the fact that a $121 million surplus vanished under Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker prior to his own attempts at union busting. As long as professional journalism ignores stories, twists facts (Fox, I’m looking at you) and, in less free states, merely regurgitates government propaganda, then globally, the journalism industry will not be trusted and blogging will continue to gain popularity. Domestically and abroad, the popularity of blogging is a well-earned indictment against the failures of modern journalism.
I combine journalism and blogging in my professional life for this reason. While I acknowledge that blogging could stand to benefit from some sort of quality standard, I believe that the journalism industry has failed to live up to its own. Furthermore, the industry seems more interested in glorifying privilege with its incessant coverage of celebrities and scandals than in addressing the ways that privilege, and the lack thereof, influence the creation of news. That’s why I began blogging. That’s why I continue to blog in addition to my contributions to other publications. Pimples and my mother’s basement have nothing to do with it.