(NOTE: This is the final article in a series. You may want to start from the beginning.)
Media is constantly evolving. So is the social and cultural context in which media exists. If journalism is to survive, it must adapt to the changing media landscape. This means much more than reposting print or broadcast stories on the web. It means taking a hard look at how journalism is practiced. It means accepting a new context, and changing how journalism gets done to remain relevant in the current context.
Similarly, weblogs are not wholly new or independent. They stand on the shoulders of media giants including traditional news organizations. Given this interdependence, bloggers can benefit from understanding journalism more thoroughly, in theory and in practice.
Here are a few ideas on what bloggers and journalists can learn from each other, and how they might work together to complement each other…
WHAT BLOGGERS CAN LEARN FROM TRADITIONAL JOURNALISM
- Fact-checking enhances credibility. People have a strong need for information sources which verify with original sources all (or at least all the most important) facts which they present. There is a role for other sorts of media, too it’s not wrong to simply cite and link to your source for a piece of information. However, if credibility is an important goal for your weblog, learn basic fact-checking skills and take the time to practice them in your blogging. You can never go wrong by fact-checking. It may be optional for most bloggers, but it’s never a waste of time. Useful guides: Fact-Checker’s Bible and Elements of Journalism
- Conduct interviews. Asking direct questions of your sources may seem intimidating at first, but it’s a useful skill for anyone to acquire. Firsthand interviews vastly enhance credibility, and they usually provide you with unique content (new quotes) that will attract more inbound links to your site. It’s also a good idea to verify quotes which you did not obtain directly that is, to contact the person quoted and say, “In article X you were quoted as saying Y. Was that quote accurate?” If your request for an interview or quote verification was rejected, at least you can tell your audience you tried.
- Identify your sources. It’s important to give credit where credit is due, and also to provide context that helps readers evaluate the information you present. Therefore, it’s important to identify not just who said the words in a quote, but whether you acquired that quote directly (through an interview) or secondhand and if so, name your source (news story, weblog posting, discussion list, personal conversation, etc.). Also, in addition to the name of the person or organization you’re citing, provide any additional relevant context (employer, funding, politics, etc.)
- People like to distinguish fact from opinion. It is totally appropriate to publish opinion and speculation in your weblog. However, most audiences find it helpful if you use language which distinguishes opinion and speculation from facts. Phrases like “I believe” and “in my opinion” and “in my experience” actually strengthen weblog writing. Don’t consider them “hedge words.” Use them where appropriate.
- Learn the law. Certain laws such as copyright, libel, sunshine rules, freedom of information, etc. may apply to the kind of content you offer in your blog. It pays to be aware of the laws of your nation (as well as international law), and to be prudent in how you go about blogging.
WHAT JOURNALISTS CAN LEARN FROM BLOGGING
- News organizations don’t have sole jurisdiction over defining what’s news. They never did, actually and that reality is becoming increasingly obvious in the online age. People are interested in a wide variety of issues, events, and perspectives that rarely or never make the mainstream news. It’s helpful to respect that diversity, and to view the net (especially weblogs) as a valuable resource for rounding out your picture of what’s happening in the world. You may discover new sources to interview which will make your coverage richer and more unique.
- Give the audience a voice. Comments are one of the most powerful and challenging aspects of weblogs. However, they’re a vital, if uncomfortable, learning tool for anyone who chooses to have a public voice. If at all possible within your news organization, allow people to comment on your stories. Read what they say, and respond to them. It probably won’t be as time-consuming as you expect, and it can yield valuable and unique new stories. You will definitely learn important lessons from this process that will enhance your work.
- People crave meaning and connection, not just facts. Reporting or verifying what happened and what people said is only half the job of journalism. It’s also important to help your audience make meaning out of current events to put them in context and to understand how they might be affected. This does not mean telling people what they should think. Rather, it usually means explaining relevant context (including history), who might be affected in the short and long term, and acknowledging that there probably are different ways to view your information.
- Blogs and feeds can help you cover your beat. Learn to use them constructively. Be willing to comment on relevant blogs that can be a great way to pose questions as an entree to an interview. The blogging community is a rich network which, despite its shootout reputation, thrives on cooperation and collaboration. Capitalize on that.
- Worry less about scoops and more about uniqueness. Traditional news organizations are extremely competitive toward other news organizations. They also tend to be suspcious of and competitive toward blogs, web sites, book publishers, and other kinds of media. In my opinion, the isolation and homogeniety that scoop-focused journalism fosters is only going to hasten the demise of traditional news organizations. These days, the point is to be connected, yet unique. Offer content that people can’t get elsewhere, and allow (indeed, encourage) inbound direct links to all of your content. Don’t just rush to publish the same stories all your competitors publish. Who really cares if you make air with a story 5 minutes before it hits the papers? What matters is: What are you saying? How are you adding to the discussion?
- Advocate web-friendly changes. Many news organizations use systems and technology which hinder key aspects of online publishing. For instance, they may use content management systems that don’t provide unique, persistent URLs for individual stories. They may hide all or most content behind a subscription wall. They may not offer webfeeds. They may make it difficult or impossible for reporters and editors to insert metadata and hyperlinks into stories. They may not support comments to individual stories. Tolerating these deficiencies will only damage your organization and hurt your long-term career prospects. Actively lobby to make your organization’s online presence web- and blog-friendly. It’s in your best interests.
- Have local meetings. Local journalists, bloggers, and citizen journalists (such as those who actively participate in community sites or discussion groups, whether or not they have their own blogs) can meet regularly to get to know each other and discuss common issues and concerns. Position these roundtables as informal and constructive.
- Read each other, and comment on each other. Journalists and bloggers who cover the same topics should learn each other’s names and regularly read each other’s work. Also, they can get to know each other through public comments or private correspondence. If you have questions about how or why a journalist or blogger covered a topic in a certain way, just ask! Build personal bridges between these media spheres.
- Link to each other. Link love is the currency of the web even for major news organizations. Search engines and direct subscriptions are waning in importance. Linking freely to appropriate stories, whether in the Los Angeles Times or a small, infrequent weblogs, can help everyone. Good links are another way to make your content more uniquely valuable to your audience.
- Be transparent. Both news organizations and bloggers benefit from explaining how they work, their resources and constraints, and the limits of what they can do. It’s also important to acknowledge errors. Direct public communication with your audience can be an excellent way to provide transparency. Authoritative posturing looks fake, and is easily dismantled. It’s better to be honest in your own venue than to be exposed and humiliated in someone else’s.
…These are just a few ideas. I’m sure you can think of others. Feel free to comment below.
INTRO AND INDEX to this series