Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Blogs are a Discussion

I've been asked many times - by many people - what distinguishes blogs from news. Of course, the lines always blur - and that's what I normally tell people. There are some bloggers who do consider themselves serious news people - just not current professionals. "Citizen journalism" has become one of the most powerful tools the blogosphere brings to the political table. But most bloggers do not dig up the news in the traditional way - finding the people who are making the news and reporting it. Most bloggers serve some sort of mix between digging up the good stories to promote them and providing key analysis, often tying together different stories and important things that are going on. Blogs are typically made by people who offer expertise in a specific field - this blog is about state politics because I'm an absolute state politics junkie. Other bloggers write about their favorite team, the profession they work in (nurses writing about health care, etc.). There's a million different things bloggers focus on, so it's hard to define what exactly makes a blog different than mere news.

Well, all this Palin business - and how rapidly the stories and writing changed - made me realize something I should have long ago. The thing that distinguishes blogs from news, more than anything else, is the fact that blogs are a discussion. It's important for readers to realize that: blogging is an online version of watercooler talk, except a medium in which links and facts are instantly at hand.

Unlike the news, where professional journalists have the time and resources (and are paid) to dig up whole stories at a time, often times an individual blogger only has the time and resources to find a piece of the story - a piece of the discussion - a photo, a source, a conversation. Once the blog is written, the discussion then continues - usually in the comments or other blogs, but sometimes it's even picked up by the news. Facts are checked and bloggers are challenged. New information emerges, because there's always a commenter that knows some angle of the story that the blogger didn't.

What does all this mean? The blogosphere is two things at once, with both strengths and weaknesses: a democray of information and an open source investigation. My own blog - and blogging - has been a recent example of both the good and the bad. The good: because of writing like mine and hundreds of other people, the American people were able to learn key information about the candidacy of Sarah Palin. It's been a democracy of information - free access and hundreds of thousands participating in finding the facts. The result? The media learned about dozens of important stories and will help vet the candidacy of Palin and McCain for the American people.

The bad: the democracy of ideas have consequences, mainly that things are posted online one piece of information at a time, before everything's come to light. Just like coworkers at the proverbial watercooler, when we have this open-source discussion online, there can be missing pieces to the puzzle that can confuse the story. The only problem, of course, is blogging is an open discussion - and our words can be heard everywhere.

Bloggers try to avoid any trouble by being as responsible as possible - linking to sources, using quotes, etc. Unfortunately, even the best bloggers are going to get stories wrong when we're still learning the facts. Some may say that the conversation should then never exist in the first place, until all the facts are at hand. Unfortunately, that's not good for the American people. Just having the conversation brings people forward - people who can fit those missing, final pieces. Not only pundits and reporters have sources and key facts to bring to the table - everyone does.

Having the conversation, in a political sense, becomes an open-source investigation that benefits the entire population. People just have to be aware that they can't hold blogs to the same standards as print journalism - we aren't the news, as much as we try to bring the news to your digital door steps. We're your buddies at work who may know a thing or two about a few subjects and want to have a discussion at lunch, perhaps while enjoying a good draft.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ryan, you raised some interesting points that are appreciated, but it should also be noted that sometimes those blogs present facts, reports and information that is not found elsewhere or a media, slashed to the bone with staff cuts, media consolidation and debt, can no longer afford to do. Some of the 'blogs' cover governmental meetings that have no reporters in attendance. And some of those blogs have repeatedly reminded a lost Governor of the laws and issues surrounding negotiating a compact with a tribe that does not own land on which it would propose to construct a casino, no does their BIA application appear to have much potential for success.
The technology is new and there will be effective blogs that exceed the expectations of most, and there will be others that diminish in import, just as water cooler conversation does. But the most important platform is that of respectful dissent.
I don't always agree with you, but I consider your perspective.
Keep blogging!

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