01 May 2008

Do Blogs Mark the Death of Journalism?

We don't get HBO, so I haven't been able to watch a Costas Now Town Hall on Taking Stock of the Sports Media Landscape, Including the Rise of Internet Bloggers and Sports Talk Radio. The New York Times has a recap of a portion of the show, pitting author Buzz Bissinger (author of "Friday Night Lights") with Will Leitch, founder of Deadspin.com. You can see the clip of the debate below.

Let's put aside the fact that much of the quotes from Bissinger and Costas were from commenters, a fact that both either didn't fully understand or didn't truly address succinctly. This piece raised a few big questions (see my answers):
  1. Are blogs dedicated to cruelty? First, blogs are no more uniform than any type of media, including newspapers, television programs, radio programs, newsletters, CD's, and DVD's. Sports blogs run the gamut in purpose, sport covered, tone, and journalistic integrity. Kickette, one of the finalists for Best Sports Blog (Bloggies) is the Go Fug Yourself of soccer, so much more different than Roll 'Bama Roll, dedicated to all things Crimson Tide or Dawg Sports (University of Georgia). Most of these single entity blogs are a gather place for die-hard fans to celebrate, commiserate, rant, gossip, and generally fuel their passion. Dedicated to cruelty? A small minority, just as other gossip media are (see the National Enquirer, Entertainment Tonight, London's trash papers).
  2. Are blogs dedicated to dishonesty? Is it easier to put whatever you want to put up on a blog that you own, putting truth aside as best you can? I think it is easier, no doubt about it. But are blogs dedicated to dishonesty? Dishonesty is significantly different than getting a story wrong. Again, blogs that are consistently dishonest will lose readership, like any media source (satirical sources excluded; e.g., The Onion).
  3. Are blogs dedicated to speed? All media has pushed more to speed, and blogs are hardly the exception here. In sports, you can start with ESPN and their reporting of rumors from their lead investigators. Here are just a few quick examples: Smoltz makes it clear in text message he's returning as a reliever "I am planning on coming back as a reliever first, and more than likely for the rest of this year," Smoltz said in a text message to the newspaper late Wednesday. (Text message as the single source, one of the easiest things to fake/manipulate) Kerr refutes report saying D'Antoni, Suns might part ways referring to the SI.com report of D'Antoni's Tenure in Phoenix is Over (yet the Arizona Republic has it this way: D'Antoni, Kerr to discuss plans "There now is a national impression that Mike D'Antoni coached his last Suns game Tuesday after an online report stated so.") Media has always balanced speed with getting the story right. Always. Blogs are no different.
  4. Do bloggers lack journalistic credentials? This is a yes for the vast majority of anyone who blogs, sports bloggers included.
  5. Do bloggers lack journalistic capabilities? This is a more significant question. What is the differentiation of a journalist? Webster defines the journalist as a writer or editor for a news medium or a writer who aims at a mass audience. It is interesting to see their second definition: a person who keeps a journal. Do all bloggers conduct research and find the facts? Probably a better question. This is probably the most significant point that Costas is driving by bringing on Leitch, as Deadspin purposely does not go to press boxes or events to bring their stories. It is very easy for a blogger to regurgitate what they've read on another blog or website without doing due diligence. However, the greed of driving eyeballs and traffic actually assists many bloggers with finding sources to reinforce their point. A good blogger will link to other's reports and posts, driving traffic to said source while establishing credibility in the process. Do bloggers conduct primary research? That would be mostly a no, I assume. Do the biggest blogs conduct primary research? The biggest blogs aren't too different than a small newspaper anyways, with a team of writers, editors, and photographers out finding stories. Add readers firing in their own scoops to send the blog to look into the smoke, and you have a situation no different than most other media outlets.
  6. Do bloggers follow a code of ethics? Here are the Code of Ethics from the Society of Professional Journalists (see below for the entire document). The main categories: Seek Truth and Report It, Minimize Harm, Act Independently, and Be Accountable. Minimize Harm is often, unfortunately, in direct conflict to Drive Traffic/Ratings/Eyeballs/Revenue (see Britney Spears et al). This is really the test of any person who creates media viewed or read by an audience. It goes to the values of the media source, as well as to the individual creator of content.
  7. Do bloggers lack writing capabilities? I feel strongly that blogs and online media have given an outlet and audience to a tremendous number of individuals who otherwise would have had little outlet for their nascent writing skills. It also has allowed struggling writers to hone their craft, develop an audience, and pay their bills in lieu of working multiple schlep jobs. You can look no further than Paul Maguire for an example of this. His Tao of Poker is one of the most widely read sites about all things poker, and he was one of the early adopters when it came to blogs and revenue generation. He also is a terrific writer, and the former has enabled him to hone his craft with the latter. I would relate my own personal experience as the polar opposite side of blogging and writing capabilities. I've been able to develop my own voice, style, and skills through writing this blog and writing for websites. I have zero training in writing (OK, one college course in Creative Writing--irrelevant), but I've brought some of my business skills to what I do: research, interviewing, analytical capabilities. How different are bloggers from journalists and authors when it comes to writing capabilities? The best of all three of these really differ minimally from one another when it comes to writing skills (or maybe the best authors are different than the best journalists, those more experienced can chime in as I don't think I'm qualified to know what I'm talking about).
The Blogosphere is abuzz, so what do you think?

Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics
Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society's principles and standards of practice.

Seek Truth and Report It
Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

Journalists should:

— Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
— Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
— Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability.
— Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
— Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
— Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations.
— Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it.
— Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story
— Never plagiarize.
— Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
— Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
— Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
— Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
— Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
— Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
— Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
— Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public's business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.

Minimize Harm
Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.

Journalists should:

— Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
— Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
— Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
— Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
— Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
— Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.
— Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.
— Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.

Act Independently
Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.

Journalists should:

—Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
— Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
— Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
— Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
— Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
— Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.

Be Accountable
Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.

Journalists should:

— Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
— Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
— Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
— Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
— Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.


Blogger SirFWALGMan said...

Perhaps Journalists have killed themselves. Perhaps some better questions would be Are Journalists Dishonest? They have a ton more money at stake for the most part. Are Journalists ethical? How many scandals have we seen recently? How many newspapers and TV News shows have been corrupted by government and big business into feeding us watered down or non-existent or even false facts. Dedicated to cruelty? Possibly the mainstream media can be convicted of this also since they have no problem destroying people when they get the chance for some ratings. So how are bloggers any different from mainstream media these days?

12:42 PM  
Blogger Dantana said...

They said the same things about the Penny Press 100 years ago. Little did they know what was declared as the death of journalism would turn out to be the future of it.

After all, it's not like American journos have ever had a regulating body. Ever.

5:36 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

FREE counter and Web statistics from sitetracker.com