What’s Radical About Weblog Journalism?

Are bloggers journalists? Should journalists blog? Is blogging too far out on the fringe of public communications to be considered within the fold of proper journalism? Recently there’s been some intriguing discussion on various media blogs concerning the overlapping roles of blogging and journalism.

I’ve been fascinated by this conversation and will be writing more on this topic later, but for now I’d like to point you to some of the highlights…
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Amy’s in ABCnews.com Today!

Being an RSS Evangelist can really pay off! This morning, I’m featured in an ABCnews.com story on RSS feeds, “Feeding the Need for News,” by Paul Eng. It’s a pretty decent overview of the topic for people who haven’t heard of RSS feeds before.

Also quoted in this story is my friend and colleague Randy Cassingham, publisher of the excellent online humor newsletter This Is True.

Yes, it would have been nice if ABCnews.com could have mentioned the name or URL of this weblog, CONTENTIOUS – but at least people will be able to find me by Googling my name. Thanks for the boost, ABCnews.com!

OJR on Reporters & E-mail: Where’s the RSS?

These days, most journalists both depend on and are utterly frustrated with e-mail. We need it for leads, and for communication with sources and editors, and we are generally overwhelmed by it.

An Oct. 24, 2003 article in Online Journalism Review, by Mark Glaser. “The E-Mail Paradox: Bane and Boon for Journalists’ Productivity,” covers how reporters today are using and misusing e-mail and other types of online communications.

This article is generally pretty good, except for one conspicuous omission: RSS feeds are not mentioned. I’m pretty surprised about that, since RSS feeds are a simple and far more organized way for reporters to follow their beats, keep abreast of the competition, and pick up news tips and story ideas. In other words, journalists who are drowning in e-mail alerts should get themselves a feed reader and start subscribing to RSS feeds instead of e-mail alerts. Also, journalists should be bugging more sources to publish RSS feeds – Really, that’s so simple and cheap/free, there’s no excuse why any organization that wants media coverage is not publishing an RSS feed!

(If you don’t know what an RSS feed is, see my backgrounder: “What Is RSS, and Why Should You Care?“)

OJR, I’d love to see a follow-up on how journalists can use RSS… But I’ll probably just go ahead and write that one up myself!

Beyond “Flashturbation”

From time to time I’ve railed against poorly conceived, distracting, and pointless Flash animations on Web sites (“Flashturbation”).

Well, one place where Flash does make a lot of sense is instructional materials, like origami instructions. Last night I was teaching a six-year-old friend of mine how to fold some simple origami models, following diagrams in a very basic book. I quickly realized that that the static diagrams didn’t fully convey the motions of making the folds. Once she could see me make a fold, see the motion, she’d get it.

On the Oriland Origami site, I found a collection of simple but highly effective Flash animations that explain basic origami folds. It’s worth checking out, to remind yourself that animation can indeed be valuable content. It doesn’t even need to be fancy or slick to work well.

Several designers and bloggers also have taken Flashturbation to task for its many crimes. Here are a couple of my favorite rants on the topic from Media Savvy and Ozone Asylum.

Clear Thinking, Clear Writing

Often, when I’m coaching writers (yes, I offer that as a professional service, ask me about coaching), I have to battle the “trapped at the keyboard” mindset – that is, the idea that the act of writing involves only what happens while you’re typing. In fact, clear thinking is the most important (and most often overlooked) aspect of good writing.

Clear thoughts crystallize in “Aha!” moments. An “Aha!” moment occurs when you realize that you have grasped a key concept, event, or relationship in such a way that you know exactly what you must communicate, or at least how to start.

Often, this won’t happen when you’re sitting there, stubbornly willing yourself to write. In fact, staring at the computer screen is exactly how many potentially good writers end up wasting a lot of time and energy, while undermining their efforts with frustration and despair!

All writing, even business or academic writing, is a creative process. It pays to discover your own creative style and nuances. Here’s how you can learn which circumstances or activities yield the most “Aha! moments” for you…
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TSA: You’ve Got Mail! (So You Might Want to Read It)

“E-government” sounds like a great idea, but not if the government ignores important e-mail. Here’s yet another example of why e-mail is definitely not the best way to communicate with the U.S. government.

Earlier this year, 20-year-old Nathaniel Heatwole tried to e-mail some very important information to the US Transportation and Security Administration (TSA). Heatwole wished to inform TSA that he would be placing bags containing security contraband such as box cutters and bleach on two airplanes, in order to spotlight continuing airline security breaches.

On Oct. 21, 2003, CNN reported: “The e-mail provided details of where the plastic bags were hidden – right down to the exact dates and flight numbers – along with Heatwole’s name and telephone number.”

Apparently, TSA didn’t bother to read Heatwole’s e-mail until after the bags were found and an extensive and urgent investigation into their origin began. Why? Poorly programmed e-mail filters.
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Comment Spam: The New Online Plague

As if e-mail spam wasn’t bad enough, now webloggers (like me) need to be on the lookout for “comment spam” – that is, spammers posting messages or URLs using a weblog’s comment function. This unfortunate development has been covered in recent Wired News article (which Media Blog has strongly criticized).

Comment spam is insidious, and there appears to be no easy way to deal with it. However, the blogging community is working on this one. Stay tuned…

CJR Tackles Weblogs

The current issue of Columbia Journalism Review offers what appears to be an excellent special package of stories on the current state of alternative media, “The New Alternatives.” Figuring prominently in this media scene are news weblogs. I’ve only just begun reading the series, but it looks pretty good, I’ll be blogging more on it later.

In the package’s lead story, “Blogworld and Its Gravity,” writer Matt Welch asks, “So what have [weblogs] contributed to journalism? Four things: personality, eyewitness testimony, editorial filtering, and uncounted gigabytes of new knowledge.”

And Jeff Jarvis, longtime journalist and now CEO of Advance.net (the Internet wing of Conde Nast), is quoted as elaborating that weblogs are popular because, “…they have something to say. In a media world that’s otherwise leached of opinions and life, there’s so much life in them.”

I couldn’t agree more! For all their shortcomings, despite the wide variable of content quality in weblogs, they bring back the individual human voice to media. The personal voice.

While the age of mass media brought valuable standards of quality and accuracy to the news business, it also in large measure drained the news of personal insight and, impact. It also sharply narrowed the range of perspectives offered, to the point that it was possible to forget that the news is actually about people.

Anyway, read the CJR series. I’m going to keep reading it. Way to go, CJR!