The Dinosaur and the Journalist

Bloggers and journalists have held an uneasy truce for a while now (particularly when there’s an easier target to pick on – like PR).

While some journos have embraced bloggers as viable sources of both information gathering and dispersal, others have scoffed at the very idea that a “bedroom writer” would have anything of value to add.

Of course, the same can be said in reverse – many bloggers don’t integrate themselves with the journalistic crowd, either believing them to be cliquish or simply wanting to keep the information to themselves for their blog and readers.

Which is a shame since, when done properly, the pooling of writing talent and information can be a very powerful tool. Journalists can gain excellent leads for stories and bloggers can gain invaluable insight into the world of investigative writing. However, despite the often protective/dismissive nature of both parties toward each other, at least they’re acknowledging each other’s place in the written world.

Where the real problem arises is with over-the-hill journalists that can’t grasp the growth and reason for bloggers and the blogosphere. These are the ones that (probably) cut their teeth on an Imperial typewriter and for whom a computer is a necessary evil to ensure their continued collection of a paycheck.

One particular example is Christie Blatchford, a journalist for leading Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail. In a recent column, Blatchford complained about a colleague at the paper blogging about the triathlon at the recent Olympic Games in Beijing. To quote Blatchford, “I’m not sure if my hair burst into flames, but I wanted to burn something down.”

Why was Blatchford’s reaction so negative (not to mention a little over-dramatic)? After all, as she mentions in her post, she believes her colleague to be a fine writer – so why such a damning statement? Perhaps the answer can be found in another comment she made in the column.

“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.”

If this is truly Blatchford’s view, then it explains why she feels so strongly about blogging and why she will never get it – she doesn’t know how to communicate (or doesn’t want to). Who cares about the readers – after all, if they don’t like it they can go elsewhere is the message being displayed here.

It’s a view that belongs in the pre-Internet era of journalism (and one that I’m not too sure her paymasters at the Globe and Mail should be too pleased about, either, sending readers to competitor newspapers).

The very essence of writing a news story in a newspaper is so that you can share it with your paper’s readers. Notice that word there, Christie? Share. Now, it’s been a while since I was in school, but the definition of the word share then was to participate, open up, use jointly, and a whole slew of others.

This is why newspapers usually have a Letters to the Editor section, so that readers can respond to news stories or opinion piece columns. With her statement that readers’ opinions should only be as important as deciding what paper to read, Blatchford shows a complete lack of connection with those that she should be connecting with the most – her readers.

This is why she doesn’t get blogging, and why she’s in an ever-decreasing minority of journalists (and other professions) who refuse to accept this newcomer to the writing world.

Yes, bloggers can get it wrong – as the citizen reporter for CNN did so spectacularly with the incorrect news that Apple CEO Steve Jobs had suffered a heart attack. (Of course, CNN should have done its job properly and taken responsibility for checking the story before publication). Yet many other times they get it right, offering instant and shared news for a worldwide audience.

If Blatchford’s main gripe with blogging is that “you can have more pensive chats in a bar fight” – which is a rather strange analogy – perhaps she should recall that the newspaper industry is 250 years old. It’s had plenty of time to fine-tune its appearance and professionalism, yet it still gets it wrong now occasionally (as the infamous Hitler diaries hoax proved on a major scale).

Blogging and the people that participate aren’t even a signpost on the journalistic-style writing road as far as age goes. Yet already the power bloggers and professional bloggers are putting many journalists to shame. And therein lies the nub, it would seem – Blatchford is scared of becoming irrelevant so she dismisses instead.

I guess it’s hard to grow old gracefully, huh?

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  1. Star Zenith says

    My concern with this piece is not that the points are sometimes valid, but that the writing is so inflammatory. When I read it, I can clearly see contempt — even blatant hostility — toward the journalist, Blatchford. If you are trying to make a point using persuasive argument, resorting to such triviality as sarcastic stone-tossing (such as: “Notice that word there, Christie? Share” and “why she will never get it” (keyword being “never”)) seriously debunk your credibility as a writer. I read this and I think, “this is the petulant rant of a woeful teenager”, not “this is a valid point being made by a writer who exists in a writing world that is full of possibilities — such possibilities that might be broader and more relevant in today’s society than the possibilities of a newspaper.” As a fellow writer, as a college professor of writing, and as a blogger myself, I encourage you to seek less inflammatory methods of persuasion. Your points will be much stronger if you can manage a way of presenting the information with more diplomacy.

  2. says

    The fundamental difference between the two categories relies I think in the entry barrier. Within the blogosphere it is extremely to enter and thus you will see more inclination towards the experimental as well as a larger degree of noise.

    Traditional media on the other hand has a more polished and rigid style and is also less prone to noise.

    IMHO there is no competition between the two, but rather a complementarity.

    Regards, George

  3. says

    @ Star Zenith.

    Thank you for taking the time to read and share your opinion. I’m sorry if you feel the piece is inflammatory – and there is certainly no contempt meant towards Blatchford.

    What there is is a look at someone who is so blatantly dismissive of an increasingly-important part of the media, whether she likes it or not. Is Blatchford not showing contempt toward her readers by suggesting they’re only good for deciding what paper to read?

    I’m also sorry you feel that (as a fellow writer) having an opinion is akin to debunking a statement – after all, isn’t good journalism/writing all about questioning what you feel to be wrong/incorrect/debatable? However, I respect your opinion, and anyone else who agrees or disagrees with this post – it’s one of the great things about blogging, it allows for debate as opposed to just being told what you should know and agree on. Which is where I felt Blatchford was behind in her thinking, hence the post in the first place.

    As for petulant teenager, I wish – my advancing years said goodbye to being a teenager a long time ago. :)

  4. says

    @ George.

    This is correct and something else that Blatchford makes reference to in her original piece (although not as fairly as you do):

    “The thing that I know, as all the editors I have had also know, is what I didn’t get to confide or write or commit to paper, because someone else had the good sense to put on the brakes. There are no brakes, and thus there is no joy, in blogville.”

    Is she therefore saying that she quite possibly wrote content that was as brakeless as the bloggers she feels are joyless, and that only the good sense of an editor doing his or her job well kept the prose worthy of being published? If so, then doesn’t it contradict the whole piece in the first place?

    Perhaps with the professional blogging sites and the editors that proof all content before publication we may see a thawing of relations and more co-existence?

    Thanks for reading and sharing your views, always appreciated.

  5. says

    I gather from this post that Christie Blatchford believes that journalists aren’t entitled to have opinions. If I am to write the facts (or what I believe to be the facts) for a newspaper – then why do I feel the need to write a blog on my opinions?

    Newspaper – this happened
    Blog – this happened and here is how I feel about it

    That’s the difference. Funnily enough, I am able to read someone’s opinions and still feel the need to have my own, whether I agree OR disagree with the blog in question.
    For example, Danny here has chosen to write his views on blogging and journalism – I can decide how I feel about it without getting angry or accusing him of inflammatory persuasion.
    I take his opinion at face value – and I definitely don’t need to get all hostile about it.

    Star´s last blog post..Review: The Cask of Amontillado

  6. says

    Hi Star,

    I don’t think it’s that Blatchford doesn’t want journalists to have an opinion (although it would appear she’s not too keen on readers of newspapers to have one). It’s more that she doesn’t want them to share that opinion in a blog, since “anyone can blog”.

    This was the gist behind my post in the first place – that, and the dismissive nature of the original piece when it comes to blogging. As I mentioned in the post, there are bad bloggers and good ones – yet the very same is true of journalists, PR people, marketers, doctors, dentists, etc – pretty much any trade or occupation you wish to mention.

    By dismissing a whole community (for wont of a better word) as irrelevant because it’s such an open forum, Blatchford is potentially dismissing the next generation of journalism. After all, everyone has to start somewhere. Hence the “prehistoric viewpoint” approach of my blog post.

    I appreciate your comments re. opinions, opinion forming and responses – yet that’s what makes blogging one of the more interesting and exciting mediums, the fact that it can engender diverse views and discussion about them.

    Something Blatchford, it would seem, isn’t too keen on having her readers enjoy…

    Thanks for reading and sharing your views, they’re very much appreciated. :)

  7. says

    Blatchford needs to realize things change. People use to use typewriters. Then they used typewriters with correction tape, then simple word processors, etc.

    I do believe many journalists feel bloggers don’t take the time to investigate the facts and information. And to some extent that is correct. But, just as readers of a newspaper can switch papers, readers of a blog can go elsewhere. The difference here is the blog encourages immediate conversation and allows for points of views to be changed or additional information to be given. A letter to the editor may not be published for days after the original article and the author of the article may or may not take the time to read the letter.

    A journalist that would also blog would be a great combination.

    CD Rates Blog´s last blog post..10-Day Give

  8. says

    @ CD Rates Blog – I think that’s the biggest problem, Chris, the “lack of trust” between journalists and bloggers, and vice versa.

    There’s a wonderful opportunity to use the strengths of both mediums to offer a wider and encapsulating news source, both instant and ongoing. The best journalists have realized that engaging bloggers is more beneficial than dismissing them.

    At the same time, the more level-headed bloggers realize that collating information with journalists as opposed to keeping them outside the blogosphere can offer depth and authority to a piece.

    Perhaps we’ll get there sooner rather than later if we can change the minds of people like Latchford and other journalists/bloggers that prefer a closed environment. It’s certainly worth a try.

    Thanks for reading and sharing your views, appreciated.

  9. says

    No kidding, an easier target being PR is an understatement!

    I don't like what I read about that Blatchford woman. Even my professors of Journalism in college, who thought PR was the “dark side,” would never say something like that. They believed that journalism was communicating the news to the public and encouraging them to engage in their communities, create change and most of all just educate them. It was the farthest thing from one-way communication.

    I don't think she's credible as a writer — even if she understands AP Style. Writers are communicators. Obviously, this woman isn't.

    On that note, I don't think journalists need to worry about citizen journalists or bloggers and vice-versa. I think each of these compliments the other. It's not about a competition to see who can get the most comments, hits or readers. It's about communicating the ideas and the stories of our world and the times we live in. Nothing more nothing less.

    That's my opinion anyway :)


  10. proudjournalist says

    As a journalist, I feel no animosity or competition with bloggers and I don't see why there is a constant comparison. The blogs that I do read are often full of opinion that I just am not allowed to include in my stories. I don't feel good or bad about that fact. It just IS. What bloggers are “putting journalists to shame?” In what way? I must admit, I did take offense at what appeared to be an undeserved attack on journalism with this post. If anything, we're held to a higher standard than bloggers. Bloggers get it wrong and it's like, “Oh well, he was a blogger…” Journalists get it wrong and.. well, you saw what happened to Dan Rather, didn't you?

    • says

      There's certainly no attack meant on journalism here, “Proudjournalist”. Instead, it's a reflection and a look at journalists that are so averse to moving with the times that they come out in attack mode themselves, like Christie did. As I mention in the post, this isn't just restricted to journalism – there are many other professions. Marketing, PR, advertising in the creative field, for example, suffer from the same malaise in many circles.

      The bloggers “putting journalists to shame” are the ones that are doing the research every day just like all good journalists do, but they often temper it more with extended views and opinion. As you say, this may be down to the fact that many journos aren't allowed to express opinions that they wish they could. If this is the case, this is more down to the publication than the individual, and one reason why journalism and the print industry is currently suffering.

      I have absolutely nothing against journalists – some of my closest friends and connections are journalists or editors. What I do feel disappointed in is, as mentioned, those that have the opportunity to grow and learn, but instead dismiss and ridicule. It's true that more often than not, journalists are held to a higher standard. Yet even this is changing, with readers of blogs far more savvy than many outlets give them credit for, and they'll soon spot (and call foul on) BS a mile off.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your views, much appreciated.

  11. laurenfernandez says

    I think that bloggers have the freedom to express their opinions where journalists do not. This is pitting them against each other, whether it's envy, miscommunication or just not understanding the journalism world. I think it's easier to attack and blatantly dismiss, like Blatchford did, then try to change the way your profession looks at things. It's all about buy-in.

  12. says

    Great post Danny, missed this one somehow. I have a problem with anyone who is stuck in the “this is the way it's always done” mode. If they can cite valid reasons, that's a different matter, but tradition often just holds back progress. I love your last line!