Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
August 22, 2008 7:05 AM

Newspapers Are A Conversation But Some Journalists Disagree

A traditional journalist is always going to flare up their own Google Juice when they write a piece titled, I'm Not Blogging This, Mark My Words, like Christie Blatchford did yesterday in the Globe and Mail (full disclosure: I write a twice monthly business column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun - both Canwest Publishing properties). A whole bunch of thoughtful writers have posted their own thoughts about it (my two favourites are: The Praized Blog - News Is Conversation and Matthew Ingram - Blatchford Pines For The Monologue), and I highly recommend taking some time to read Blatchford's piece. It's a living testament to one of my favourite quotes of all time: "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less." (General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army as quoted by Tom Peters in the book, Re-Imagine).

Blatchford's piece is a must-read because her actual reasons for not Blogging and the value this new media brings to society highlights how much the world has shifted.

"...now there is blogging, and comments. Readers may take 30 seconds to post a comment on a story or blog item that a writer dashed off in a minute. On The Globe website, our slogan is 'Join the Conversation,' but in the blogosphere, what follows isn't usually a conversation but a brief, ungrammatical shouting match. You can have more pensive chats in a bar fight... And journalism wasn't meant to be a conversation, anyway. It was maybe a monologue, at its most democratic a carefully constructed dialogue. If readers didn't like or agree with the monologues in paper A, they bought paper B. What was most important about their opinions was that they thought enough to spend the coin."

It's a tough pill to swallow. I thought that newspapers were always meant to be the way a community informed itself? Everyone could not know everything and be everywhere, so we appointed scribes (writers, journalists) to gather this information, package it and distribute it to the masses. As a Journalist myself, I always knew that my role was to ask a musician the questions that the public wanted to know, take that information and feed it back to them as a service. If I wasn't asking the right questions or getting the appropriate answers, my loyalty was to the readers. The only way I would know if I was doing my job is feedback and having very passionate conversations in person (or through the mail). Granted, there wasn't much wiggle room for a conversation in that type of media, but isn't that the whole beauty of Blogging and where technology is taking us? Now, the last period at the end of the last sentence of any news item is where the real story begins.

"It is not true that anyone can write. It is not true that anyone can write on deadline. It is not true that anyone can do an interview. It is not true that anyone can edit themselves and sort wheat from chaff. It is not true that even great productive writers like The Globe's Jim Christie or Ms. DiManno or Mr. Farber can hit a home run every time they sit before the laptop. But the odds of them doing it are greatly increased if they haven't already filed 1,200 words to the Web, shot a video, done a podcast and blogged ferociously all day long... Most important, Michael Farber is right. We all have a limited number of things to say, informed opinions, funny lines, quirky observations. We have only so many words in us. Do we really want to spend them on something as ephemeral as a blog?"

I think anyone can try to write (and has the right to express themselves). That being said, writing isn't the issue, readership and audience is. Who cares how many newspapers, Blogs or Podcasts are out there? If someone finds value in any of this content, they stick with it. If they don't, they move on. I've seen terribly written newspapers with huge readership (just go check out the tabloid section of your local newsstand) and I've seen the most brilliant of Blogs build up readership that trounces the New York Times, Washington Post and Time Magazine combined. This is what I call Digital Darwinism - your content does not evolve because you are using the latest and greatest technology. Your content evolves when people read it, connect to it, share it, tell others and continue to pay attention to it.

I also disagree that writing is based on the scarcity model. As someone who has been writing professionally since the mid-eighties, I find the more words I put out there, the more channels I try, the more creative I get, the easier it is to find my words, the more I self-edit and the more creative I get. I'm not going to become a better writer by doing it less... I'm going to get better by doing it more. I don't Blog less when I'm writing a book (as I am doing now). If anything, I find the need to flex those muscles more. My self-defense coach, Tony Blauer, used to say, "practice does not make perfect... perfect practice makes perfect."

In this new media world, "time to press" and new technology is not the enemy. One's attitude towards the changes and reality of a world where anyone can publish for free and express themselves is the new enemy. I cherish Blogging because I can embrace the haters, freaks and geniuses. I can gage the value of my content based on the readership and comments (or there lack of). It forces me to think even more about what, exactly, I am going to say when my readers are now my fellow community members and their words and thoughts get the same featured value.

By Mitch Joel


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