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Jan 17, 2009

More on Bloggers, Journalists and Checking

I have mentioned this interesting post on Jason Wilson's Gatewatching blog about the Windschuttle hoax befor

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I have mentioned this interesting post on Jason Wilson’s Gatewatching blog about the Windschuttle hoax before, but I think it is worth drawing attention to again, because the comments thread has developed into an interesting debate on whether it is valid to make comparisons between bloggers and journalists, and what it is reasonable to expect of bloggers and commenters on blogs before they make factual assertions about people.

I’m still making up my mind what I think about this. Although I (unwittingly) kicked off the whole bloggers v journalists thing in this post I confess I haven’t thought the whole thing through thoroughly. Indeed, the original post, written in the middle of a full-on week in which I was under attack, and after filing a long story for Crikey, is hardly my best. Yet it has attracted the most traffic of anything I have written on this blog! I wonder what this says about “standards” and “journalism”,  (and excuses) in this case my own !

I’ve clarified some factual matters and made some other points in the comments thread on Gatewatching. I may have more to say later,

But for the moment, don’t we need to clarify our terms? Not all blogs are trying to do the same things, as I have pointed out elsewhere. Australia so far has very few news-based blogs. Those that come closest to journalism mainly concentrate on the commentary part of the job.

And not all of those who wear the tag “journalist” behave in the same way either. And what do we mean by “journalism” in any case?

UPDATE: The debate goes on with contributions from Skepticlawyer (Helen Dale), and has spilled over on to Larvatus Prodeo. I have chimed in again on Gatewatching, and am thinking of preparing a longer post, tentative title “What is a Journalist (and are you one)?”

ANOTHER UPDATE: The debate continues at Club Troppo and again at Gatewatching.

Margaret Simons —

Margaret Simons

Journalist, author and director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism

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20 thoughts on “More on Bloggers, Journalists and Checking

  1. Tim Burrowes - Mumbrella

    Hi Margaret,

    It’s not the only definition, but I think I agree with the distinction I’ve read elsewhere over the last few days (possibly on another of your posts). It comes down to the difference between commentary and original investigation, however cursory.

    Many bloggers see their role as purely to comment on, and link to, what is already in the public domain.

    Journalists have been trained to seek comment from all parties – and to feel a sense of entitlement to do so. So journalists who blog often take an issue on, merely by making a few calls. That’s something that not every blogger is comfortable with, or inclined to do.

    We did a story on Friday about the much-reported tale of the girl who got a tattoo to win a job looking after the Great Barrier Reef. There was even a video of her posted on YouTube and on the Tourism Queensland site.

    There was speculation on various blogs that the video was a fake, but none of the bloggers actually looked into it other than to flag it up. It turned out to indeed be a fake – it was a transfer, not a tattoo, and the girl works for the ad agency.

    But the point is, the press office of Tourism Queensland freely admitted it when I rang to ask. From there, it was easy to get her name from the ad agency who also freely admitted it. Two phone calls was all it took.

    The only difference was, bloggers talking about an issue who aren’t trained journalists, wouldn’t, on the whole, have been inclined to pick up the phone, or necessarily know how things like press offices work.


    Tim – mumbrella

  2. Jason Wilson

    Don Arthur has also weighed in over at Troppo, Margaret.

    Look forward to reading that post when it emerges.

  3. Tom McLoughlin

    I think my blogging is pseudo journalism, amateurish at times, often eschewing the 2 separate sources rule. On the other hand it’s often superior analysis and sometimes fact checking too just by force of years experience. Also more balsy with litigation experience as a practitioner. Just this morning I got the shits listening to former federal Tourism Minister John Brown banging on via Sydney radio about Howard in Iraq, but giving a free pass to Kevin Rudd on Gaza (by not mentioning it period).

    But when idealistic Brown started on about electricity privatisation as a missed economic opportunity while undeclared as either an unpaid or maybe paid spruiker for MacBank (eg Lime Taxi venture steered to Maq bank, on the public record, NSW Stateline). Well I really got the shits, and rang and told them “For God sake …undeclared conflict of interest”

    Of course no mention of the GFC making privatisations as viable as a rubber shovel either.

    I feel sorry for the young journo, radio jock or whatever expected to mix it with some of the crooks and spivs in politics who have had years to practise their dark arts. This is where bloggers and paid media should learn to work off eachother.

    I took the time to warn Tim Dick as now opinion editor at SMH that Sheehan is not off the hook re his funded trip to Israel and opinion piece in the middle of the Gaza slaughter last week. He thought I wanted something. Far from it, I was just being considerate, with fair warning because it’s sort of Gandhi openness before you potentially destroy someone’s career, but it confirmed to me his own settings.

  4. Jack Robertson

    “This is where bloggers and paid media should learn to work off each other.”

    Journalists and bloggers should avoid each other like scrub pox. What each does with words is fundamentally incompatible. The difference is about applying rules that cover what you can and can’t publish. Journalists have to apply rules, bloggers don’t. A large part of an MSM editor’s job should be shot-gunning these rules. Don’t skate so casually over something like the ‘two source’ one, Tom. It and all the many other banal procedural, editorial and house style demands ARE journalism. Often they are totally contrived. In fact if you want to take a hardline po-mo epistemological line, all words are contrived rules…yawn, well somebody’s got to call house style on Hamas – terrorist/militant/freedom fighter? What matters is not which one but the consistency of application, the existence of the rule itself. Info checking, and re-checking when the story shifts, and re-re-rechecking after denials…the words that we see in the newspapers represent the tiniest tip of journalism, the product of a fairly intense epistemological sifting process. These multiple banalities of daily news gathering – which bloggers generally have no idea about – are all that separates news from the white noise of a billion monkies typing in cyberspace. Sometimes we with our no info-rules get it right, and often journalism with its multiple info-rules gets it wrong. Of course someone, somewhere in cyberspace is going to get it right when all the someones and somewheres in cyberspace are writing ‘everything’. News-gathering isn’t just the act of reporting news. It’s also the act of not reporting not-news. On simple practical grounds alone the journalist’s main job is probably finding out what can’t be published. That’s why journo-style is so godawful dull. And it’s why the better the MSM stylist the more you shouldn’t trust them. Writing-wise I like the bombastic aesthetic certitudes of the Hitchens, the Sheehans, the New Journo’s too. It’s just that I don’t trust what they write. Truth usually doesn’t read remotely so well.

    All this po-faced passive-aggressive Mark Bahnisch bulldust about ‘let’s not turn this into a blogger v. journo’ stoush is utterly self-serving. Of COURSE it’s a stoush, Mark. Of COURSE it’s an epistemological dust-up. Bloggers want to be able publish whatever flits into our mind of a morning after a few skims of a few papers, with maybe some more obscure academic theorising lobbed into the mix for gravitas and a bit of personalised raspberry-blowing for stylistic garnish, and mix it on the paper-of-record level. It won’t fly. Superficially MSM journo’s – constrained by all those rules that make them write like Clydesdale’s on nambutol – are hog-tied, set up as the perpetual straight men in the ‘ooooh, sexy writing’ stakes. These gotchas! – wow, Stop Press, blogger uses fake blog to stitch up time&resource pressed dead tree editor, aided by professional journalist moonlighting on online gossip site with its own pretensions to MSM-hood – are even bigger fixed fights that the Murdoch Op Ed page.

    Of COURSE it’s an epistemological battle underway, Mark. Tom, the only way bloggers and journos should feed of each other is in that context: it’s a fight, and the stakes are whether or not literate humanity is for better and worse going to go on selecting, arranging and circulating what we mutually call our information-of-record according to a set of epistemological rules…or on the daily shimmering whims of a billion individual writers. I know which one I’ll choose, any time. And it’s not ‘Our blogs, our rules, OK?’

    And it’s a lame surrender for professional working journalists to start giving a crap about the ‘spoiling’ that we bloggers engage relentlessly in. Much less start aping it. You can see the way blogging style is infesting the MSM, even somewhere as rarified as daily leaders. Where’s your bollocks gone, hacks? Why should you give a toss about mass graffiti-in-the-night? Often it’s scrawled out of pure piss-on-the-MSM-doors-we-can’t-kick-down frustration, spite, boredom, envy, schadenfreude, point-scoring…you’re naff to get suckered just because a few bloggers can write a bit slick, and occasionally one grafts a dead tree editor. Journalists and journalism should go on treating the blogosphere and all who sail in her with colossal disdain and dimissal. Bloggers who want to mix it in the ‘public debate’ proper – lookin’ at you here MB – should lift up the fucking phone and start pitching articles to dead tree editors. Hey, it’s not much fun and you’ll probably fall flat on your face but it’s the first step in the long process of adding a (hard-earned and defended) adult imprimatur to your teeny-bop words, and so lifting them out of the primeval sludge of pain-free narcissistic self-publishing solitude. Meanwhile those journos who secretly think they’re a Great Writer and want to flaunt their chops the easy way – Hunter S. Thompson non-fiction rather than honest fiction – should quit their MSM gig and start a blog. And that novel.
    I’ll happily swap my writing day and weekly cheque for yours.

    Stop behaving like wittering twits, everyone. This is embarrassing for us all.

  5. gavan

    Jack’s actually not too far from something useful in his comment, though I think he ends up contradicting himself. His point that “What each does with words is fundamentally incompatible” is really solid, often overlooked, and essential to the entire debate.

    The comment, “A large part of an MSM editor’s job should be shot-gunning these rules. Don’t skate so casually over something like the ‘two source’ one, Tom. It and all the many other banal procedural, editorial and house style demands ARE journalism” is also spot on.

    But points like these merely reinforce the view that what bloggers and journalists do are fundamentally different and that, in large part, the endless judging of one by the other’s standards is pointless.

    That’s why I think he contradicts himself when he says, “All this po-faced passive-aggressive Mark Bahnisch bulldust about ‘let’s not turn this into a blogger v. journo’ stoush is utterly self-serving. Of COURSE it’s a stoush, Mark.”

    For precisely the reasons he gives–that what they do is fundamentally different–it isn’t a stoush. Or at least, not to the extent that justifies the CONSTANT use of journalism as some sort of yardstick for how bloggers should behave.

    And like Jack, I want the MSM to keep doing what it does, though I’d prefer they did it better. I also want bloggers to do what they do without constantly having to justify their participation in public debates against comparisons with whether they are being “journalistic” enough.

    Fact is, a lot of journalism is shoddy, doesn’t live up to its own standards, fails to engage, and fails to provide adequate ways for “outsiders” to participate. It is–particularly in Australia–embedded in a business and ideological model that is self-serving in the extreme (that is, far too few independent journalists and outlets for them) and is used to operating without any serious competition. Is it any wonder that the advent of blogging technology has brought forth a bunch of people who now have the means to point that out, do point it out, and in process don’t want to be identified as journalists? Because they are not journalists.

    Anyway, there are plenty of reasons to criticise particular things bloggers write without going near a comparison with journalists. Be nice to see some analysis that didn’t just fall back on that tired meme.

    (And to clarify, I am talking about conditions in Australia.)

  6. Jack Robertson

    Good fair point Gavan. You’re right – championing the ‘ideal’ of journalism isn’t to say that I think journalism is healthy and well. Far from it. But you don’t cure a sick patient by changing the definition of ‘well’. And that’s essentially what’s happening at the moment: journo’s are being told these days that thanks largely to teh interBoobs they’re just going to have to ‘re-invent’ themselves and their biz, adapt, change, become ‘new’ (again!), etc yada blah. Well, maybe in some things. Certainly technology has changed the game to some degree. But not its core. Technology comes and goes. Always has, always will. It’s the epistemological girders of journalism that define it. The rest is just the color of your font.

    But I do disagree that it’s ‘not’ a fight b/w bloggers and journo’s, because both do different things. Well, yes. But do (most) bloggers really think that themselves, except as a tactic in stoushes that turn a bit hot? Personally, I think it’s disingenuous for bloggers to spend months, weeks, years…attacking the MSM, only to retreat into a welter of mock-innocent ‘who, me?’ disavowals when they get a bit of stick back. You see it all the time online. Bam, bam, bam, bam, stupid Jim Schembri, dumb Denis Shanahan, moron Andrew Bolt, biased Greg Sheridan, boom, boom, boom, Government Gazette Oz, Feral Trot Smage, brain dead MSM hacks, loaded paradigms, crazy Quadrant, lazy Press Gallery, dopey science reporters, populist tabloids, blam blam blam….and then when these guys – professional pens who live and die by their bylines – bite back a bit in kind…you get a withdrawal and bit of chin-stroking ‘hmmm, yes, well, this has raised some valid questions for discussion about whither media?, hasn’t it’…followed by the lame runaway lament: we’re not claiming to be journalists, stop criticising us as if we think we are…’

    It’s just always seemed a bit…convenient to me.

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