I think about the evolution of blogs as serious news sources probably way more than I should, but as an educator and journalism junkie, I can’t help but try to figure out what effect bloggers are going to have in terms of media literacy and consumption. I’m in the camp that says traditional journalism has some serious problems ahead, that more and more, forms of participatory journalism are going to cover the news that people consume. I think by and large that people who do any thinking at all about their sources of news have lost faith in the accuracy and trustworthiness of what’s being reported. It’s just becoming way too hard to separate fact from opinion and story from advertising. Trouble is, of course, is that there are too many people who don’t give what they read or hear a second thought.
William Safire opines about the usefulness of bloggers in a journalistic sense today at the New York Times. He suggests that as advertising grows, bloggers will come in from the “meanstream to the mainstream” to eventually deliver “serious analysis and fresh information.” But then he says this:
On national or global events, however, the news consumer needs trained reporters on the scene to transmit facts and trustworthy editors to judge significance. In crises, large media gathering-places are needed to respond to a need for national community.
That just strikes me as so typical of what we expect from Americans as citizens of the world. Study after study shows that we have no real pulse on the rest of the world to begin with. Ask what Gaza is and most people will probably tell you it’s a big band aid. We can’t keep track of what happens in Kansas much less in Kiev. So, Safire says that yes, we can use our brains to sift through American news, but on that oh so foreign international front, we should just sit back and get the regular spoon feed of ideas and information.
Bunk, I say.
Look, we have an opportunity here to really teach ourselves and our kids to be active consumers of news, and in doing so, to be better informed and better prepared for the troubles that certainly lie ahead. And there is a new formula evolving for doing just that. It’s built on the idea that lots of amateur reader/editors can do just as good if not better job than a few professional ones who are beholden to some company or some stock. It says that this isn’t just an American thing, that it works the same way around the world. And it says that the “The Daily Me” really is now the responsibility of all of us; we need to find and construct our own newspapers, aggregated from RSS feeds and the like.
I know that it’s much, much more complicated than that. And I also know that most people aren’t going to want to put in the time. But I’m also hoping that we can use the vast amounts of information and news that we now have at our fingertips to show students how interesting the world really is.
Howard Solomon says
It doesn’t seem to me that the presence of the blog spells the end of journalism as we know it. Despite a few bad apples, journalistic training has yielded a population of journalists the we believe we can trust. If anybody can fill in a blog as easily as I’m writing this comment, the issue of trustworthiness of sources emerges. And this is merged with the issue of point of view.
Democracy in journalism is a fine idea. But we have no track record on the quality of our sources. We’ve all heard of the parable of the blind men describing the elephant. What standard traditional journalism gives us is a set of approved blind men who, by and large, have been more accurate about the elephant than the rest of the blind men. Their accuracy, questionable as it may be, is the result of traditional training in feeling out a larger chunk of elephant before making a report.
The combination of blogs and traditional news that I would like to consume would kick off with a lead story written by a traditionally trained professional journalist and then followed by blog commentary arranged in order of likely expertise on the event. Expertise is a fuzzy concept, but is probably acquired in multiple ways including both eyewitnessing and long-term study. For instance, the story of the tsunami would require someone up front to say what a tsunami is, where it originated, who was impacted, etc. The commentary on the tsunami would include people on the beaches, victims’ family members, aid workers, seismological scientists, disease prevention experts, etc. I don’t expect the reporter to do it all. I expect the reporter to start – summarize – and facilitate.
And I expect that there will be a place for the reporter who can transform the role from news-generator to commentary facilitator.