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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