It was going to happen. Someone with a “media” column is bound to throw his lot into the tired “blogs as journalism” debate, and usually it’s a pro-blog stance.
The debate’s trademark, though, is typical of mainstream analysis: a black-and-white breakdown of an issue that deserves a wider perspective. Blogs are sensational, but most have no credibility, and old-guard journalists don’t trust change and can’t accept blogging as a legitimate purveyor of news.
Whatever. Both sides have their narratives, and neither lends itself to understanding how blogs and newspapers operate in the shadows of the other.
The best blogs and Web magazines typically are aggregators. At least part of their content involves accumulating the headlines and stories from major newspapers and magazines – and analyzing them. Slate.com will email you a daily synopsis of front-page coverage from The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and the L.A. Times. But aggregation is not limited to the online world. Nearly half the world receives its news from The Associated Press. The Michigan Daily, as well the thousands of AP subscribers, run AP stories and photos covering relevant news. The Daily also runs stories from The New York Times’s front page.
While not nearly as expansive as online aggregation, newspapers do a fair amount of aggregating to cover their bases. At the recent United Auto Workers strike at the Willow Run Powertrain facility in Ypsilanti, the Daily ran an AP cover of the strike, since it wasn’t very local to Ann Arbor and the AP had more background knowledge (though the Daily ran its own photo).
But overall, online journalism is the aggregation flagship. And while some are content to analyze what’s printed, others use that analysis as the basis for original reporting.
Talking Points Memo is a superb combination of aggregation and original reporting. The site broke open Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s unethical involvement in a land deal. Within days the story went national. In a profile on Talking Points Memo by David Glenn at the Columbia Journalism Review, he described the situation: “It was not the crude hit-and-run that skeptics of political blogs sometimes say they fear.”
Sure, blogs have the freedom to spout whatever they want, and it can be hurtful -detrimental, even – to a public that can’t always make the distinction between opinion and reporting. But the minds behind sites such as Talking Points Memo understand that in order to command legitimate attention, they’re going to have to adhere to the same principles that underlie newspapers: citing facts, grounding opinions with solid proof and so forth.
And while it is fair to point out that sites like TPM are exceptions in a field of hundreds of thousands of blogs, that notion overlooks the collective power of the blogosphere. CBS anchor Dan Rather was rather publicly humiliated and lost his job when dogged bloggers proved the documents he used to question George W. Bush’s military service were revealed to be fakes. Whistle blowing, however uncomfortable it is when you’re on the receiving end, is something we can never have enough of.
Both blogs and newspapers have their hang-ups. The better ones know that some sort of symbiotic relationship is necessary. What would TMP talk about if there weren’t a Washington Post or New York Times? With newspapers and magazines facing dwindling budgets and downsizing, who’s going to hold them accountable?
Let’s all take a deep breath, set up a Google Reader account with RSS feeds from The New York Times, The Superficial, Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo and The Drudge Report and see for ourselves where the line between online and print blurs to the point of irrelevance.
– E-mail Klein at email@example.com.