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Are blogs changing journalism? A response from Felix Salmon of Reuters.

Are blogs changing journalism? A response from Felix Salmon of Reuters.

It's a fascinating question with the anticipated answer of "yes, of course blogs are changing journalism"--a kind of knee-jerk response that celebrates social media and the way in which the modern newscape has become more democratically leveled and networked--whereas, upon deeper reflection, this is followed by a more nuanced response that perhaps blogging has changed the style, delivery, and consumption of the news rather than changing the hallowed principles of professionalism, ethics and accuracy in the field of journalism.

What do you think? Yes more than no ... or the other way around?

In his blog for Reuters, titled "A slice of lime in the soda," Felix Salmon responds to a series of interview questions from Benzinga's Laura Hlebasko that are elucidating enough in their raw form, but for the purposes of this entry are boiled down to the essentials in answering the question about blogging and its impact on journalism. Hlebasko asks of the difference between writing a story for traditional print media versus writing a blog entry for Reuters, to which Salmon responds there are "big differences" in the writing form, that with a blog his voice is more conversational and situated within the context of an ongoing dialogue within the network of other blogs on the topic and even with himself (seen in updates to the entry as more information comes to light).

Also, blogs are part of a technology that allows for embedded links, and this makes blogging a medium for interactivity in potentially serving as more informative to the reader, in being connected to source and tangential articles on the topic, versus the static, non-linked printed story. But the upside to traditional media is there's likely more thought and research put in to the reporting and editing of a story on the front end, as well as energy put into the design and layout towards a final effort, versus the casual, kind of "push it forward" approach that is iterative and about quantity and not always about quality.

Another interesting difference, according to Salmon, comes with bloggers wanting to wait until breaking news has settled so that varying facts and opinions can be given from competing news sources, in order to get a more rounded picture of the topic without leaning too far to one side or the other (as all news sources have a relative form of bias and margin for error).

Hlebasko asks what are some of the underreported impacts of blogging versus traditional journalism? Salmon thinks blogs have the power of iteration, as somewhat criticized above. With a printed story, there's a lofty effort made to meet the deadline and get the piece to press, after which you move on to a new topic. But with blogging you can approach a subject more superficially and then come back to it again and again. This means incorporating comments and feedback to your entry in the next rendition, as well as responding to what is being said within the blog network on the topic.

Also, there is no word limit or template constraints in blogging like there are in traditional print media. So Salmon believes it's natural to maybe "geek out" more on a topic than would be allowable otherwise, either due to constraints mentioned or because there is not a proper venue for that kind of detail on one subject in traditional printed media. He says, "Blogs have a reputation for being superficial, but they can also be much more detailed and accurate than traditional journalism. Not to mention the fact that they're often written by genuine experts in their fields, rather than by journalists."

On the question of news consumption and if blogging has changed reader patterns (in readers driving more content through forums and comment chains), he says that while blogging has given readers more options beyond the traditional legacy sources, people behave differently depending on their disposition and what they are interested in. Some people are loyal to particular news sites, others pick up news from Twitter and Facebook or Google Reader. The aggregation on sites, seen in "most read" lists, is a way to see what a lot of people are reading but do not offer insight into the unique individual reader's pattern, and this is an example of how the web is suited actually to "narrowcasting" rather than broadcasting.

There is a question about how Twitter specifically has impacted journalism, to which Salmon explains that velocity has become a part of the digital mix, as seen in the way Twitter breaks news before formal reporting hits the stands or television screens or radio waves. It also is an easier way to navigate topics, and is a medium that allows journalists a more human voice, one where they can show personality and be themselves.

Hlebasko asks if there are untouchable aspects of journalism, where new technology shouldn't come in to have influence. Salmon thinks it depends on the meaning of the word "journalism," that professional journalists should always meet standards of professionalism, ethics, and accuracy gained through J-school and experience in the field; but those reporting on Twitter maybe don't need to have the same standard. There is a spectrum between the two types.

About the evolution of blogging and its affects on journalism, Salmon thinks that old-school Blogger blogging is becoming a thing of the past and is being replaced by micropublishing on Facebook and Twitter, and larger, more professional sites like Business Insider and The Huffington Post. Today most news sites have a blogging department which meets "more assiduous editorial standards, while big blog sites are becoming newsier; that trend is likely to continue." But this should not deter people interested in starting a blog in the Blogger sense--he thinks it's a way to have a presence and break into the communications industry.

Sources: Benzinga, Reuters, Nieman Journalism Lab



Ashley Stepanek


2011-03-17 16:00

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