Back to Clay Shirky! In chapter 3 of his book, Here Comes Everybody!, Shirky writes about the effects the internet has had on journalism as a profession. He makes the argument that when anyone can be a professional, then no one is. He also calls in to question the validity of online journalists. Are their contributions to our daily intake of news just as important as “real” journalists or are they actually hindering the process?
To be fair, journalists are held to a standard that just doesn’t apply to bloggers. When a blogger makes a mistake, misquotes someone, or just plain lies, he can either correct his writing or not. There is no real accountability. We have seen time and time again seen what happens to professional journalists when they make the same mistakes.
The major question to answer her is how valid is blogging as a journalistic endeavor? I would argue that it is very valid. The most prominent example that jumps to mind is The Drudge Report. Started as just another celebrity tabloid, Matt Drudge gained some attention when he broke the the story of Jack Kemp running with Bob Dole in the 1996 presidential election. It’s easy to write that off as a one-shot deal, but the next big story he broke was not so easy. In 1998, he reported that Newsweek had information on President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky and that they were sitting on the story. Of course this forced Newsweek to publish the report since someone had already published it for them!
Now, this is where we get in to why I think it is just as valid if not more so to call news bloggers “real” journalist. Newsweek, for whatever reason, was sitting on a story that could show that a sitting president had perjured himself under oath and was having an adulterous affair right in the oval office. I can imagine a lot of powerful people wanting to keep a story like that under wraps. I can also imagine an editor or reporter shelving the story due to promises and/or threats from some those powerful people. Drudge on the other hand could only gain from reporting that same story.
So what’s my point? Well, first, journalists are professionals. They get a paycheck from an editor. They also need access to key political, business, and social people. That access unfortunately comes at a price. Suppose you want an exclusive interview with Senator Y, but he finds out that next week you are going to right an exposé on his dirty dealings. In most cases, what do you think it’s going to take to get that interview? Maybe the journalist in question is honest enough to disagree to the condition of shelving the story. What about his editor though? The editor is going to have even more at stake than the journalist. He can always hire new writers, but if he loses access to his information sources then he can no longer produce.
Now, let’s look at it from the perspective of the blogger. She knows someone who worked directly for Senator Y in his dirty dealings. As someone who is another voice in a sea of voices, she has no chance of ever getting access to the senator. What she can do though is break a major story about political corruption. Suddenly the news is out and the media has no choice but to cover the issue. Now it’s Senator Y who is begging to tell his side of the story. Meanwhile, the blogger has gained a following due to her ability to break news that the news industry was either unable or unwilling to break. Now she has access to sources, politicians, celebrities, etc. She is now making money off her writing and becoming more and more relevant. Isn’t she now a journalist? Even Shirky raised this same question in regards to Xeni Jardin. She was hired by NPR mainly due to her work on Boing Boing.
With reports over the last few years of newspapers filing for bankruptcy left and right, it is obvious that new media is having a major effect on old media. The ad revenue and subscriptions that newspapers depended on aren’t drying up. No, they are moving. The ad revenue has migrated to websites that can boast millions of unique viewers every day. Some produce numbers that most newspapers could only dream of. Blogger.com, Twitter, WordPress, and Tumblr are all sites dedicated to blogging in one form or another. All of them are in the top 50 most visited websites on the internet!
So what does it all mean? I believe it means that in the future, news will be more and more reliant on so-called amateur journalist. It all boils down to one key reason: access. A reporter can not be on scene anytime some major event happens, but some random guy with a phone and a Twitter account may very well be there. Information like that can spread at the speed of the internet! Sure, we may still rely on traditional news media to bring us the views of experts and those directly involved in major stories, but we are bound to see these stories originating in none traditional places. Is that good or bad? I don’t really know. I guess only time will tell (cliche, I know). What’s your take on the issue. Leave me a comment. Let’s discuss it.