Through Mindy McAdams’ blog, I stumbled into some back and forth on why all journalists should blog. Or not. The last word for now goes to Bobbie Johnson of The Guardian, who wrote the initial “not” post in this conversation and, naturally, finds himself on the defensive.
That’s the way things go in these discussions. As Bobbie puts it, debates over journalism and the Web tend to have a lot of “with us or against us” rhetoric. Scott Karp, who pushes the “all journalists” theme here, is actually a bit more receptive to Bobbie’s argument than most Web hipsters I’ve seen. I’ve been in some conversations with people who have all the dogmatic zeal of a religious convert, and they don’t appreciate even a gentle teasing — say, being labeled as a “Web hipster.”
Basically, there’s a “cool crowd” in journalism these days, and it’s full of early adopters of any Web technology you can imagine. You’d think I’d fit in with them, having spent close to a dozen years involved with the Web, but I really don’t. For one thing, I’ve seen too many “latest things” on the Web fail. Web hipsters can gripe about newspapers all they want, but newspapers are still in business — and quite profitable, though they’re obviously not growing in the way stockholders would like.
I usually see where the Web hipsters are coming from. I often like the technology as much as they do. I’m just not as willing to posit my news-reading habits on the population at large, and I share Bobbie’s aversion to sweeping generalizations.
In this case, Karp makes a convincing argument on the benefits of blogging. But he doesn’t convince me everyone should do it. Here’s part of the response I left on his site: “Blogging is just one of several skills you can develop as a journalist. A reporter who can blog is valuable, but so is a reporter who can edit. So is an editor who can create multimedia presentations. So is a Web content developer who can debug code.”
That covers one half of the argument — that blogging rounds out journalists’ skills. The second half is that blogging teaches journalists how dive into the messy but rewarding world of interacting with readers.
But that assumes journalists weren’t interacting with readers before “blog” entered some dictionaries.
Just as blog evangelists (including me) could argue that journalists could learn something about interaction via blogs, newspaper vets (also including me) could argue that every journalist should spend time with a small- or mid-sized paper, dealing with angry callers and getting yelled at by high school coaches.
And the feedback you get via blog is rarely representative of your readership as a whole. If you’re out in the neighborhood and people know you’re working for the paper, they’ll often tell you what they think of the paper. Blog feedback is less random — and frankly, less useful.
Because here’s the funny thing about all the lecturing that Web hipsters love to give journalists: You can convince the journalists that they’re supposed to be doing all these things. But you might not convince the readers the they’re going to use the tools the way you’ve envisioned.