In case you haven’t noticed, a relatively new beast has arrived to shake up the already crowded ecosystem that is the news media.
Newspapers, radio, magazines, TV stations — everyone’s scratching their heads to figure out the new pecking order with the introduction of this strange new species called “the blog”. Reporters, editors and producers across the country, who five or 10 years ago thought they had their jobs figured out, are suddenly fretting over whether they should be blogging too. They worry whether citizen bloggers will threaten their niche in the food chain and they wonder if the millions of blogs will multiply like a virus and kill the meaning and value of the traditional news source.
Somehow I seem to have escaped this panic in the industry over the possibility of a blog pandemic. Perhaps I’m just naive, but I’m really not worried.
For those who have not been following this issue, a blog is an online “web log” that acts like a public journal for a citizen writer. Since the Internet is everywhere, blogs can likewise be from anywhere — and anybody — which has naturally started eating into news media’s bread and butter. Why tune in to CNN about the war in Iraq when you can read an up-to-the-minute blog from a soldier on the ground? Why read a Hollywood gossip column when you can read the celebrity blogs written by the likes of Britney Spears and Pamela Anderson? And those D.C. political insider blogs are giving Washington Post and The New York Times correspondents a run for their money.
On a national scale, I can see why the media are worried. These are big, popular issues involving “sexy” topics such as war, politics and celebrities.
On a local level, however, the issues are a little different. There are some astute bloggers in Bellingham who are writing about local politics, the environment, the music scene, etc., but the scale is much smaller. There just aren’t as many of them competing with established media.
In general, there are some strong differences between blogs and the news media. Bloggers tend to write their opinions or first-hand experiences about their chosen subject. News media organizations employ trained journalists who know how to balance a story and who understand that credibility is their most important asset. If we get something wrong, readers know exactly whom to call to get the issue addressed (me, for example). Professional media organizations know that well-researched and accurate articles are what separates us from the rest, and we take that seriously. Bloggers don’t have to worry about those things as much because, frankly, they can’t get fired.
I feel that the greatest asset of any established news organization is its ability to produce reliable, straight-up news without the bells and whistles. When people want to know what’s going on, they go to a reputable news source to get the facts. They know it’s what we do for a living and they trust us. I just don’t see that changing.
I mean no disrespect to bloggers. Many of them employ these same standards, and I think the public is better off for having them around. I certainly am not saying that the media is always right, either, because — well, we all know better.
Even with our faults, however, I believe there will always be a place for professional hunters and gatherers of facts. It’s our special niche in the information food chain, and it’s what we will always do better than anyone — even this newest animal called the blogger.