I have continually regretted the animus between traditional journalists and bloggers. I think both sides have become increasingly entrenched in their partially accurate complaints about each other and I do not think the public, the press or bloggers are served by the standoff.
These are not new thoughts for me. But they came recently when Scoble reported on a cultural bump he experienced during his talk at Fortune magazine's Brainstorm Conference. Scoble wrote, "The audience cheered when the host made the point that magazine journalists go slower to 'get it right'" than do bloggers.
The cheering audience was comprised of many senior executives. One ironic twist is that many working reporters were relegated to an overflow room where they watched the conference onscreen but could only have conversations with each other. The cheering to me showed that the short-sightedness of big media executives regarding social media has remained consistent even as that shortsightedness has helped such media executives steer the organization closer to the edge of economic precipice.
But look at Scoble's readers did the same. In the form of comments to his post, he was cheered as heartily by his audience as the Brainstorm speaker had received. We have two groups cheering their own points of view, wanting to be proved right while no one is listening to the other side.
Hard for progress to come out of the situation, I would say. There are two camps sitting smugly with arms folded, both sides look "dead right" to an impartial observer, I would guess. That impartial observer would note that the world will not be a better place if traditional media organizations continue to shrivel and die. The observer would note that evidence is very sparse that a loosely joined citizen journalist network is in position to replace professional news gathering organizations. Further I believe quite passionately that the world will not be a better place without professional news gathering organizations.
Let's look at this "journalist" word. It is my view that a journalist is not defined by WHERE he or she writes but by WHAT he or she writes. Not everyone who blogs is a journalist. In fact few are. Nor is everyone who writes for traditional media a journalist either. It seems to me that crap is fairly evenly distributed between social and traditional media contributors. So is quality.
Journalism is not, however, what has put trad media companies into their generally dire straights. That is caused by an expensive, slow, environmentally hostile distribution system. News organizations are starting to resolve this by migrating online.
But a great many are missing an essential point when they go online and that is the power of conversations to engage readers and improve content. it is in the non-acceptance of the fact that the readers are collectively smarter than the writers and this is why so many bloggers such as the unedited Scoble, are building vast and loyal audiences.
But bloggers have their own stack of flaws and the stack is not small. First, we tend to sit and opine, rather than go out and ask. We tend to assume or friends have a greater hold on truth then strangers or adversaries. Very often, we make nasty comments based on conjecture, rather than actually asking someone a tough question.
Scoble raises the issue of editors. He talks about the pain of the process he goes through writing a column for FastCompany, a slow and painful process. He talks about how our readers make our facts straight post publication.
But editors do a great deal more than fact checking. More often than not, they get reporters to write better stories. The public gets served by editors who ask annoyingly tough questions, who force reporters to go back and ask a second source for confirmation. The editorial process makes it more likely that a reader will see a more complete and credible story and despite all the examples of exceptions to this rule, the evidence that this is true is overwhelming.
I owe a lifetime of valuable lesson to editors I have known. Each of them has annoyed me, but as a rookie, Jack Cook taught me to ask the easy questions first, to make an interviewee relax. My mentor, Charlie O'Brien taught me to read the facts of a scene before letting anyone confuse me with words. Faith Wempen made Naked Conversations a better book by making it far more readable than Scoble and I could have done with her.
Bloggers form a loosely joined global network. We can spread words faster than media organizations. We usually get it right. But we usually depend on other people to fill in relevant details we did not even try to get. Collectively, we cannot match the discipline and organization of professional organizations like the NY Times, nor should we aspire to do so. Most of us lack the schooling and the training and the years required. Most of us find it easier to sit and opine rather than go out and uncover.
But we also have our assets. Some could prove hugely valuable to news organizations. For one thing, we are increasingly ubiquitous. Our feet beat the streets of the world. We feel the tremors when earthquakes erupt in San Francisco or China. We ride London subway tubes when an explosion goes off in an adjoining car. We find ourselves lulling on a Thai beach when an tsunami rolls in with vicious force. We are increasingly present where the action is and traditional media all too often is not.
Our ubiquity is a power and that power is increasing about as rapidly as resource constraints th lessen the reach of editorial networks; lessen their ability to get to the action; lessen their ability to dig around the proclamations of self-serving official spokespeople to report a conflicting perspective.
Blogger ubiquity comes at a time, when editorial budget constraints are disbanding historic stringer networks upon whom newspapers have depended upon for so long. My belief is that a significant portion of this problem can be fixed by braiding traditional and new media journalism.
I also see in braided journalism an opportunity to pull back the lost revenue from local advertising that has continued ever since Craig published his first List. Bloggers can make hyper-local coverage work better. Let's go back to that soccer game. Let's make one of those moms in the stands a blogger who covers the soccer league for a few dozen friends and neighbors.
Now, let's braid her content into the online edition of the local newspaper and let her soccer coverage be sponsored by a few local merchants who pay about a buck per click through. Or bloggers gains circulation and credibility. The newspaper gets to cover the sort of news that actually makes up hometown communities. The local merchant, for low cost gets to show community support. The paper makes some revenue and tosses a small portion to the blogger.
One example, but think of all the places and ways that braided journalism can occur.
I think this is vitally important. The world will not be a better place if traditional media keeps shriveling and dying as it has been doing in recent years. And bloggers who aspire to be journalists, will learn the difference between writing and reporting as they begin to read the facts of the scene.