The Best of Both Worlds? Integrating Mainstream Media and Blogs/Social Media (National Conference on Media Reform #ncmr11 )
By Shel Horowitz, GreenAndProfitable.com
Are bloggers really journalists or are they simply ranting without regard for such concepts as “journalistic objectivity”?
Are traditional journalists still able to tap into the pulse of their community beat, or have they been pushed aside by bloggers who are part of the stories they report?
In an age when radio and print journalists go into the field with cameras and post stories online before they ever see a newspaper or a radio studio, does the instant news cycle of events reported on Twitter and other social media pressure traditional journalists to cut out the analysis, sifting, and curating role they’ve often played in the past?
Is the deprofessionalization of news a good thing because it furthers the democratic impulse, or a bad thing because newsroom budgets are being slashed and if we lose professional journalism, we lose one of the most important balances against runaway government and corporate power?
As AOL prepares to swallow Huffington Post, these questions were much discussed at the National Conference on Media Reform, held in Boston in April, 2011. And since I’ve been both a journalist and a blogger, I’m paying attention.
Traditional journalism platforms can convey legitimacy to bloggers who partner with them, and at the same time make the stodgy and distant institution of a mainstream newspaper much more accessible and contemporary.
The Seattle Times, for example, partners with 39 bloggers. Without promoting or even announcing the partnership at all, the paper surveyed its readers about these partnerships, and found that:
- 84% valued the partnership
- 78% valued the Times for the connection
- 52% improved opinion of seattletimes.com
Perhaps most remarkable of all, out of more than 900 responses, 324 wrote long open-ended replies; being heard about these relationships mattered enough to them that they took significant time to sound off.
According to David Cohn of Spot.Us, a site that allows journalists to solicit funding for specific investigative reporting projects, tapping the community can provide resources that couldn’t exist without crowdsourcing. For example, the Guardian, a well-regarded British newspaper with a strong investigative history, divided up the analysis of a large and complex document to 1000 different volunteers, each taking on a single page.
This has obvious efficiencies in analyzing a document that’s too big for normal channels; most journalistic organizations can’t devote a single reporter to something so resource-intensive.
But what could get lost with this wonderful collaborative process is the big picture. I think of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein slogging through the evidence that eventually forced Richard Nixon from the presidency of the United States, fitting together the pieces of a complex puzzle. Who can put these pieces together in the crowdsourced model?
And what happens to the world of journalism when the journalists performing primary research see their funding wither away, and thus no longer provide the raw material that bloggers often depend on for their reportage?
One answer may be provided by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, http://necir-bu.org. Under the auspices of Boston University and fueled largely by free student labor, the center claims to be the only New England news organization with an ongoing commitment to investigative reporting outside of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team. The institute promises its paid subscribers at least one new investigative news story every month, and also raises revenue with a certificate program in investigative journalism, aimed largely at training bloggers.
But not every journalism resource has the luxury of an unpaid labor force. When newsrooms cut back on both salaries and investigative resources in favor of cheaper infotainment like reality TV, how will we get our news?