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Vulnerability: Why journalists should blog


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July 22, 2006

Vulnerability: Why journalists should blog

Stephen Baker

Vulnerability. It's a good thing. It's what people need to establish healthy relationships, and it's why journalists (among others) should blog.

This thought occurred to me when I was talking to Technorati's David Sifry six weeks ago. He said that he tended to place more trust in journalists who blog. Why was this? They're representing themselves in an open forum. They appear more vulnerable. I certainly felt the sharp end of this when I misquoted B.L. Ochman in an article a year ago. (I felt miserable, of course, but it was also something of a relief to be able to blog a correction and an apology immediately, and not have to wait for the magazine to respond.)

What's so great about vulnerability? To be vulnerable is to have your defenses down. Whether this is in a relationship or at work, it usually leads to better communication. Often you find that you didn't need the defenses in the first place. They just got in the way. (Just to be clear, I'm talking about human communication here. This is not true for soldiers.)

Many journalists view the blog world as threatening. To a certain degree, they're right. It's virtually lawless and has plenty of flamers, spammers, wingnuts and MSM loathers. In other words, it's much like the outside world. But I'd say that journalists who don't venture into this world are more vulnerable, not less. If they get into trouble, they have few allies outside their own guild. And if they're not blogging, good chance they won't hear the angry voices til they grow into a storm.

Some personal stuff under the fold...

I promised a week ago to blog from the Great Midwest. I then proceeded to drive with my family from New Jersey to Marion, Ohio, and from there to Madison, Wis., and then back. Two thousand miles in seven days, and I'm sorry to say I didn't once get this laptop into a WiFi hot spot. I was otherwise engaged.

One thing I wanted to blog about, but didn't. Crossing Indiana, we were getting hungry and we drove down to the Amish town of Nappanee. Amish are famous for good food. But the only Amish place we found was Amish Acres, more of a tourist haven than I could stomach. Disappointed, we ended up at a fast-food Italian place. Turned out that the woman running the place was born and raised Amish. She sat down with us as we ate and told us about her life, her marriage, her decision after having four children to leave the church--and how she is now officially "shunned" by the community, including much of her family. The result: We learned more about Amish life in this Italian restaurant than we would have at Amish Acres.

04:52 PM

mainstream media, society

In my opinion, the skill in journalism is the ability to distill a two hour interview into 300 words. But of course, statements will be taken out of context in order to make that happen.

I think people trust writers, whether they're bloggers or traditional journos, who are willing to let their opinions, and as you note, their vulnerabilities, and their mistakes be known.

I always love when I see strike outs through blog content because it means that the writer is acknowledging a mistake.

The interesting impact of blogs is that now a lot of reporters, including you, make their notes available for those who are interested to read.

If blogging contributes nothing else, that's a very major change in how journalism is practiced.

Posted by: B.L. Ochman at July 22, 2006 07:08 PM

Stephen, your stories of vulnerability moved me and I am reminded of how vulnerability is linked to what is called intrapersonal intelligence. Some have more than others and your blog helps us all to develop more. Thanks -- a great post!

Brain Based Business

Posted by: Ellen Weber at July 22, 2006 09:44 PM

steven

reading your story about the Amish lady and discovering her history and heritage brings to mind my favourite saying "Look beyond the obvious" - as you did, and found a treasure. thanks

Posted by: Niti Bhan at July 23, 2006 12:31 AM

Blogging will do nothing to enhance the credibility of journalists. The problem isn't with the medium, it's with the message. Most journalists are simply too ignorant to write effective articles about most subjects.

Take, for example, the cruise missile attack by Hezbollah against the Israeli corvette a few days ago. Did you know it was a cruise missile? Did you know a second was fired, sinking an Egyptian freighter? Did you know the corvette should have been sunk, bu the missile's warhead was a dud? Did you know that the corvette has a Phalanx anti-missile defense system that could have shot it down, but was left turned off for fear of accidentally shooting down an Israeli aircraft?

I found virutally none of this from reading the articles written by journalists. CDR Salamander, on the other hand, had the situation dissected and labeled for all to see.

See this: http://cdrsalamander.blogspot.com/2006/07/asm-strike-on-israeli-corvette.html

Information dissemination is an experts' game. Most journalists aren't experts.

Posted by: K T Cat at July 23, 2006 12:37 AM

What is a nice blog is http://www.stuarthughes.blogspot.com and his Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/69397705@N00/

Posted by: Michiel at July 23, 2006 03:58 AM

I think it's not just vulnerability but humanity: having the respect to speak to people, eye to eye.

But in the end, I think what matters is fallibility: the acknowledgment that we're not perfect, we make mistakes. Admitting that is a boon to credibility, eh?

Posted by: Jeff Jarvis at July 23, 2006 06:56 AM

The new pressures of the Internet are leading some journalists to embrace the medium. Many have taken up blogging to provide personal perspective and a deeper story than what editors normally allow. One of my favorite examples is the group of BusinessWeek blogs, where reporters like David Kelly maintain an ongoing conversation with readers. Recently, one of its "Blogspotting" writers, Stephen Baker, even pointed out that more journalists should keep their own blogs. Baker says that they should embrace the "vulnerability" of blogging, which adds pressure, but helps build an open, honest relationship with readers.

More here:

http://www.challengedividend.com/the_challenge_dividend/2006/08/blogs_keep_joun.html

Bob Gilbreath

Posted by: Bob Gilbreath at July 23, 2006 08:00 AM

Of course journalists should blog,but they shoould be write on Citizen Journalism. In Poland few proJournalists public on http://www.ithink.pl the first polish citizen journalism service.

Tha kind of webpresence make Journalist more independent in readers eyes.

Rafal Janik

Posted by: Rafal at July 24, 2006 10:01 AM

The problem, of course, is how to reconcile that rhetorical "vulnerability" with certain realities of life as a rank-and-file reporter.

Chief among them is the fact that your copy belongs to your publication and your editor and not to YOU.

Quite a few journalists have discovered the limits of candor when they blogged about how their editor made a hash of their reporting ... and found themselves looking for another job.

Another is the fact that in some contexts -- straight news reports, especially -- your reader would really rather NOT rather have you insert yourself into the frame.

They'd rather you just shut up, get out of the picture and point the camera at the subject matter. There's much wisdom in the old J-school maxim: Never become part of the story.

People who vociferously mistrust the "mainstream media" always seem to blame the byline, overlooking the fact that the copy they're reading is the product of many hands.

What's more, it emerges from a hierarchical decision-making process in which the bearer of the byline may not be able to vouch personally for the integrity of the final product.

Personally, in most cases I much prefer to see reporters adhering to the time-honored standards & practices of reporting than engaging in post-modern ironies.

I enjoy good feature writing as much as anyone, but I'm not that fond of having my straight news filtered through someone's calculated efforts at sprezzatura.

Posted by: Colin Brayton at July 24, 2006 05:59 PM

Cat, I agree with you that expertise can come in handy. But I represent the other side of the profession, the one you object to. I'm a generalist and often start out knowing very little about the subjects I write about. A case in point is my current project, which focuses on math and data. I have no doubt that I ask dumb questions, miss connections that the math-endowed would see immediately, and contribute, from time to time, to the garbage-in, garbage-out phenomenon.

But there are some advantages of generalism. First, generalists are more likely to see connections from different fields. Second, generalists experience the subject as new, and thus are more likely to understand what the generalist readers would find interesting. Experts often assume that readers know as much as they do, so they spare us "the obvious," which of course isn't always so obvious to us.

I would say that the biggest shortcoming of most English-speaking journalists covering the Middle East is a lack of local language skills. That's a handicap that is hard to overcome.

Colin, you're right that blogging journalists have some limitations. But the describe the process as either/or. I don't see journalists replacing their normal production with blog posts.

Posted by: steve baker at July 24, 2006 08:01 PM

Journalists, particularly ones with experience on their beats, owe it to their readers to blog. Reporters know so much more than can fit in a news hole. Using blogs to share that information with their readers to help them make decisions is what journalism is all about.

Blogging will also help improve reporters understanding of how readers understand and react to what they write, which should result in better writing. Better writing will be needed as that traditional news hole shrinks.

Journalists will need to write about why they're blogging about things that didn't end up in the "news hole", but that additional step will also be helpful for readers and publications alike. Wouldn't it be interesting if reporters learned that readers would rather read the stuff they put in their blogs than the stuff they put in their stories? Then journalism would really start to change.

Posted by: Chris Thompson at July 25, 2006 08:00 PM

Blogging Journalism is redefining the press market place, the medium blogosphere itself is transforming the way people read, gather and collect information, it will be definitely a different kind of journalism, more interactive, based on good network connections, faster, quicker and it will create also a different style of writing ,.....but will it be a better one?, more accurate one ?, will it develop more specialists ?, more generalists ?

Posted by: Henrique Pl?ger Abreu at July 26, 2006 03:44 AM

Steve, I can appreciate your position. I don't object to generalists. What I was artlessly was trying to say was that as a value proposition, once the generalist has brought the event to our attention, it's time to click over to Commander Salamander and get the detailed analysis. The generalist becomes the alert notification.

By the way, I threw this thread a link this morning. There are some journalists who should never blog under any circumstances.

http://ktcatspost.blogspot.com/2006/07/anderson-cooper-batting-practice.html

By the way, thank you for blogging. I enjoy what you write about. I'm richer for you having done it.

As an aside, is there anything you guys could do about adding HTML formatting to these comments?

Posted by: K T Cat at July 27, 2006 08:38 AM

Hello, my name is Erin Teeling, and I work with The Bivings Group, a Washington-DC based online public affairs company. Our team at The Bivings Group recently completed a study that analyzes how American newspapers are using Web technologies on their websites. We noticed that your blog contains a lot of interesting posts about newspapers and the media, so I figured I'd give you a heads up.

Below are some highlights:

*80 of the nation's top 100 newspapers offered reporter blogs. On 63 of

these blogs, readers could comment on posts written by reporters.

*76 of the nation's top 100 newspapers offer RSS feeds on their websites. All of these feeds are partial feeds, and none included ads.

*Only 31 of the papers offered podcasts.

You can view the full study here:

http://www.bivingsreport.com/2006/the-use-of-the-internet-by-america%e2%80%99s-newspapers/

Let me know if you have any questions.

Erin Teeling

eteeling@bivings.com

Posted by: Erin Teeling at August 10, 2006 03:50 PM

As K T Cat said,'information dissemination is an experts' game. Most journalists aren't experts.'

They are, however, the closer they get to owning a byline - the modern sinecure -, extensive moralists and propagandists. From my perspective, most dissatisfaction with MSM, precipitating the phenomenal rise in blogging and blog referencing, comes down to that.

Journalists hold their prey to very high moral and ethical standards, yet allow themselves all sorts of latitude with, and a complete freedom from, in many cases, those same standards. Thus, the thinking world sees them as hypocritical. The issue being credibility, most MSM now have none. I'd rather go to a Mark Steyn, knowing his 'positioning' on most issues, or do a daily LGF check, than force myself to deconstruct the pusillanimous and distorted agit-prop that most MSM serves up.

What's wrong with contemporary journalism? They are not very good liars, and confuse their roles; they are not there to provide PR, but uncompromised facts!

Posted by: Pegleg Pete at August 20, 2006 04:13 PM


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