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Beginning to like bloggers better than journalists

At least bloggers have courage to say what they write are opinions!

A while back there was a raging debate about how bloggers are not journalists. I agree. Actually, I find that to be very refreshing. I hope bloggers don’t become like journalists of popular newspapers.

Here’s my perception about what appears in dailies like The Washington Post or The New York Times.

journalist = trying to find truth behind a story +
concluding about the truth +
write forcefully enough to convey that perceived truth +
defend the reporting with moral superiority

Most journalists I’ve read keep repeating “as a journalist, my job is to report facts; so people can draw their own conclusions”. Giving them benefit of doubt, I started reading these two dailies on a regular basis, with a critical eye. I’m now convinced that the lofty goal of helping people draw their conclusion is just a load of ****. Most of the time, the writing is so well arranged that all the facts are there, but some facts are more prominent. At times, it is the outright conclusion that is presented.

This is the lead story at The Washington Post at 3:20PM on 06/16/2003. “High Court Allows Ban on Public Housing Loitering: Aimed at fighting crime, Richmond’s controversial rule makes streets of complexes off-limits to nonresidents.” Underlining is mine, but if that is not advertising a conclusion, what is?

The New York Times seems to be much better. However, recent resignation of editors following the Jayson Blair scandal, makes me wonder.

What about Blogs?

Most blogs are for explaining an individual’s perceptions. Like this one. These are the blogger's thoughts and they are proud of it. Proud enough to admit it and make it public. Bloggers usually don’t hide behind a transparent curtain of unrealistic values.

For me, blogs score much favourably over traditional journalism in the following factors:

In short, most blogs are opinion pieces, and they make no concessions about it. My issue is with journalism - or its more glorified speciality of investigative journalism - tends to be just as much opinionated, but are constantly explained as being factual.

I guess it is simply a case of expectation management. There are good newspapers out there. There are good journalists out there. Question is, are journalists free enough to write about news, presenting only the facts? Bottomline at a newspaper is selling subscription. This - I’m guessing again - makes room for sensationalist reporting, instead of factual.

Writing a blog is not considered a business venture now. May be later, blogs will also become like newspapers. There is still going to be individual blogs. That, will keep the human element of blogging, active.

Newspapers are good source of information. Because of professional time spent in researching stories and editing, we get a polished product. The whole point of this blog post is that I’m finding it more and more frustrated in figuring out what exactly is the information and to easily prioritize the information, without the reporter constantly trying to force their pre-conceived prioritization down my throat. This is particularly irrititating when I see headlines that attempt to lead you to conclusions.

Or, editors and reporters are more than willing to follow the philosophy of the villain in Tomorrow Never Dies. “Bad news is good news”. So, make headlines that scare or upset readers. Good tactic to get attention! Simple souls might consider it an abuse of trust people usually associate with professionally published newspapers - but who cares as long as it sells, right?


Here’s an excerpt from this weekend’s Post magazine, from a story about AOL. “It was a stunning moment, a surreal confluence - if not unholy alliance - of religion, greed and intoxicating whiff of power that lay in AOL’s grasp at the height of the Internet boom of the 1990s.” This, is usually the kind of tone, you see on a blog.

Points to Ponder

Are all journalists bad? No! There are many good ones. I suspect most of them are frustrated too, if they are told what kind of stories should they write about; how they should write etc.

  1. There are things in your entry that I certainly agree with, and things I don't agree with. Yes, journalists at many papers are under pressures to grab readers' attention and hold it. And yes, subscriptions do matter to the health of the paper and its reporters. But I think your conception of how newsrooms work is a little too tidy. Reporters don't sit around awaiting instructions on how to slant a story; editors and copyeditors often only talk briefly with reporters about the tone and content of their stories. It's in this context that many stories get slapped with headlines or dressed up with "punchier" language that annoy readers. Are journalists free to write the facts? Yes, but most reporters and editors (not to mention publishers) believe that readers want more. Investigative reporting, done well, is among the best examples of public service around, and it can be rewarding professionally and financially. The reason we get annoyed with poor reporting is that we know the benefits of journalism done well.

    Posted by: Derek Willis on June 16, 2003 09:52 PM
  2. Derek, now that I think about it, I am very much inclined to agree with your assessment of "The reason we get annoyed with poor reporting is that we know the benefits of journalism done well."

    I understand the real-world, business related pressures of reporting. My frustration is mainly with the fact that such parameters are seldom acknowledged - I hardly hear an editor or reporter saying anything other than "we are proud of our ethics; and we stand by our story". I wish this profession starts shaping mature adults who can admit the truth of their environment .

    Also, I would like to stress again that I don't want to generalize that all newspapers are bad!

    I feel that the level of hypocrisy in journalism is rising.

    Posted by: Babu on June 17, 2003 05:57 AM
  3. I know you didn't mean all newspapers are bad, but you're right about the mentality many editors and reporters have developed in regards to their readers - an air of superiority in some ways. I'm not sure that journalism has gotten more hypocritical or that readers have gotten better at spotting issues that have existed for a long time. Having worked for a for-profit journalism shop and now at a non-profit one, I now know that investigative reporting, done right, really does matter to people and will be rewarded. The big difference is that most newspapers long ago gave up just being a source of news and started to rely heavily on revenues that other content(classified and retail ads) bring in. I'm not against advertising, but I think some papers have tried to get by with the least-costly (meaning least experienced) staff so as to maintain a high level of profit via other sources.

    Posted by: derek willis on June 17, 2003 07:12 AM
  4. Most newspapers exist to serve the function of selling more copies than anyone else.

    OTOH the news wires do not. Their function is simply to provide accurate, unbiased news.

    It is true that some facts will achieve more prominence than others. However, this is a problem that you will never escape and can only be mitigated by reading a large selection of news.

    Posted by: Colm O'Connor on September 10, 2003 12:18 PM