Journalist in not getting blogging shock

It's hard not to raise a smile at Dave Hill's gentle fisking of his local newspaper's rather arbitrary leader on why teh blogging is rubbish. The column is the kind of thing you'd have expected half or dozen a so years ago when blogging wasn't as mainstream or as popular as it is now, and everybody (read: the media) seemed convinced citizen journalism via bogs was going to take down traditional media and rule the world and journalists were worried they'd become redundant. Or something. Fast forward to today (or, if you happen to be reading this light years in the future, 2008) and bloggers haven't exactly killed off the medium of print, although they have changed the nature of journalism, and how that change will finally pan out is unclear.

But the two are sitting, if not exactly comfortably together, in closer proximity than perhaps was expected. Most major papers now have blogs where journalists and, horrors, the great unwashed interact. Even more shocking is the number of journalists who maintain their own blogs. In their own time! Lawks! Who'd thunk it. Look, there's one. And here's another. And, my gosh, another. They're bloody everywhere.

And what's more it's not just journalists who can write and have opinions. A lot of other people do it rather well, often in a niche area. One of the trouble with journalists is, unless we end up seriously specialising, our knowledge is spread a little thin and there's invariably people out there who know more about the topic than we do. Which is, I think, largely a good thing. Holding the fourth estate to account and all that. And, blimey, occasionally you can learn something. Hell, transparency, which is pretty hot on the web these days, is a good thing. After all, journalists call for it all the time, right?

Ok, blogland does have more than its fair share of tub-thumping nutters who do like causing a shit-storm and enjoying the controversy. That's largely the nature of a free and open platform for publishing. I'd hazard a guess than the majority of the tub-thumping nutters can also be found among the retired colenels in the letters pages of local newspapers. At the very least, they're no less nutty than some of the people who write in.

But one of the great things about blogs and other social media is how they've changed the nature of newsgathering.

Certainly, today's journalists are as likely to be tracking a breaking story online using Technorati, Summize and Twing as they are door-knocking (and both have their merits and disadvantages, and are best used in conjunction). Similarly, they're turning into a great source of news as more newsworthy people get blogs. 

So it's just slightly depressing to read the following comments in the leader column:

"It's accepted practice - particularly if a public figure makes controversial remarks on a blog - for newspapers to use them as source material for their follow-up story, subject to the paper contacting the person quoted to check that what appeared is accurate."

"For a blogger to moan that what they themselves put in the public domain has somehow been pillaged because a newspaper hasn't acknowledged them smacks of breath-taking petulance."

And is also one of the fastest ways to severely hack off the blogging community.
I'm not disagreeing with the idea of using blogs as source material, providing the information is verified. There's fair comment, and taking chunks to build the article around is, in my book, fine, but it helps if you at least let your readers know where you got your information from. Hence trackbacks and links and the like in blogs.
But there's a world of difference between quoting a blog (or any other piece of work) and lifting the whole thing wholesale, not that national organisations would ever do such a thing.
Put this another way. I have no problem with people quoting or referencing this blog, especially if they find it interesting. To me, it's a great way of getting feedback, extending conversations, getting points of view I wouldn't have thought of and, yes, a slightly nice feeling that somebody actually thinks what I've written is worth reading and discussing further. And that's a feeling I got in journalism as well. But if anybody thinks they can lift an entire post, they'll get an invoice off me for work. Like they would from any freelancer. And I'm not in blogging to make money. If I was, I'd have been out on the streets long ago.
It may seem like I've probably just sat grandmother down and spent over an hour teaching her to suck eggs with the help of every egg-sucking training aid on the market. But sometimes it's worth repeating these things, especially when you combine said leader with the Gripe section in the last issue of The Journalist (thanks to Pink Sunshine for sending me a copy).
When you have a member of the NUJ's national executive write the following:
"Too often, blogs seem like slags or slogs, probably both; disappointing slogs through slaggings off. Perhaps when blogs have grown up a little more they’ll be better. For many, still, maturity seems a long way off."
it makes you realise that even though blogging is very much part of the media, there's still a large number of journalists who don't or won't get the potential benefits to their own industry.
[In fairness to The Journalist, there were several good pieces on why bloggers and web-writers need to be accepted into the Union, and how social media can be used for journalism].
Not every journalist makes a good blogger, and certainly not every blogger makes a good journalist. But there's so much more to the internet, and the communities, and the conversations that take place around these communities. Conversations that don't necessarily need newspapers to facilitate them.
Quite whether the two writers of the respective columns utilise social media for journalistic purporses, I've no idea. But I know if I were at a local paper, I'd like to be engaging with people who can shape my paper, buy my paper, engage with my paper, produce ways to make my paper more profitable, and ultimately help gather news for the paper.
Because, at the end of the day, journalism, local or otherwise, done well will be read accordingly. And journalism done well than engages online with its audience stands a chance of being read, shared and trusted by far more people than a print run could manage.
[And, just to round things off, I stumbled across the initial post from Dave Hill via Martin Stabe]